Food Prices and Transitions in School Meal Participation During Elementary School

by Ashlesha Datar, Nancy Nicosia

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This paper examines participation patterns in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP). This study adds to the existing literature in two important ways. First, the authors conduct the first longitudinal examination of transitions in SBP and NSLP participation using panel data on a cohort of elementary school children. Second, they examine whether local food prices are associated with SBP and NSLP participation using cross-sectional and longitudinal models. A large proportion of children in their sample experience transitions in SBP (37 percent) and NSLP (28 percent) participation during elementary school. Children who change SBP participation tend to come from low-income households whereas those who change NSLP participation come from high-income households. Increases in real prices of dairy, meats, and fruits and vegetables are associated with increases in SBP participation only among children from low-income households. There is no effect of food prices on NSLP participation.

The research in this report was prepared for the Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and conducted by RAND Health.

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