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Emily Pickren

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2016 — Mounting evidence shows that healthy school meals play a key role in supporting the well-being of children, including alleviating food insecurity; improving dietary intake; and mitigating obesity, says the nation’s leading anti-hunger group, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).

“Research clearly shows that school meals support the growth and development of our nation’s most vulnerable children,” said Jim Weill, president of FRAC. “More must be done to increase participation in school breakfast and school lunch, and other federal nutrition programs, so millions more children can reap the benefits that support their health and learning.”

In its soon-to-be-released September issue of the organization’s periodical, “FRAC Focus: Obesity and Poverty,” FRAC points to several recent studies published in prestigious journals and reports that find:

  • Free or reduced-price school lunches reduce food insecurity by at least 3.8 percent, as reported in the Journal of Econometrics;
  • Access to school breakfast decreases the risk of food insecurity and breakfast-skipping, especially among low-income children, according to research that appears in the Journal of Nutrition, Social Service Review, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report;
  • The new nutrition standards, which took effect in the 2012-2013 school year, improve nutrition-related outcomes among students, including improvements in fruit and vegetable selection and consumption, according to research compiled by FRAC earlier this year;
  • Low-income students who eat both school breakfast and lunch have significantly better overall diet quality than low-income students who do not eat school meals, according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition;
  • Participation in federally-funded child care nutrition or school meals provided in child care, preschool, school, or summer settings is associated with a significantly lower body mass index among young, low-income children, as reported in Health Affairs; and
  • Economists estimate that free or reduced-price school lunch reduces obesity rates by at least 17 percent, according to research presented in the Journal of Econometrics.

FRAC’s research reveals that an average of 11.7 million low-income children ate a healthy breakfast each day at school during the 2014-2015 school year, an increase of 475,000 children from the previous school year. Schools that offer breakfast free to all students in the classroom report decreases in discipline, psychological problems, visits to school nurses and tardiness; increases in student attentiveness and attendance; and generally improved learning environments.

Participation in the school lunch program is significantly higher, says FRAC. More than 21.5 million children received free and reduced-price lunch in the 2014-2015 school year. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that children who participate in school lunch have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not participate.

“This abundance of research shows the importance of the school meals programs to student health. There also is growing research demonstrating the gains resulting from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” added Weill, referencing legislation that authorizes funding and sets policy for USDA’s child nutrition programs, including school meals. “With the pending reauthorization of child nutrition programs, we must continue to make these good programs even better so they may reach increasing numbers of eligible, hungry children and do so with good nutrition.”

To receive a copy of FRAC Focus: Obesity and Poverty, subscribe here. For more information on school meals and other federal nutrition programs, visit

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The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States