Junk Foods in School and Childhood Obesity

Much Ado About Nothing?

by Ashlesha Datar, Nancy Nicosia

Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.3 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

There is a growing belief among policymakers and the general public that competitive foods in schools are a significant contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic. Numerous policy initiatives are underway at the local, state and federal level to regulate the availability of competitive foods in schools. However, the existing empirical evidence motivating these efforts is limited and rarely addresses the potential endogeneity of the school food environment. In this paper, the authors estimate the causal effect of competitive food availability on children's body mass index (BMI) and other food- and school-related outcomes using an instrumental variables approach on a national sample of children. They find that competitive food availability generates in-school purchases of junk foods, but contrary to common concerns, there is no significant effect on children's BMI. Nor do they observe significant changes in overall consumption of healthy and unhealthy foods, and in physical activity. Finally, their results find no support for broader effects of junk foods in school on social/behavioral and academic outcomes.

The research in this report was conducted by RAND Health and RAND Labor and Population.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation working paper series. RAND working papers are intended to share researchers' latest findings and to solicit informal peer review. They have been approved for circulation by RAND but may not have been formally edited or peer reviewed.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.