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Factors Associated with School Meal Participation and the Relationship Between Different Participation Measures

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Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher(s): Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Author(s): Michael Ponza; Lara Hulsey; Quinn Moore

Topic: Education (Schools)
Health (Food and nutrition)

Keywords: National School Lunch Program; School Breakfast Program; program participants; parent reports

Coverage: United States


This study investigated factors that influence students' participation in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs using recent data from a large, nationally representative sample of students certified for free and reduced-price meals during the 2005-2006 school year. Whether students are in elementary school and whether they like the taste of the meals are among the most important factors associated with picking up the meal offered that day. In addition, if students currently eligible for reduced-price meals were instead given free meals, they would participate more at lunch than they do now, although not at breakfast. Finally, parents' reports of the previous day's or previous week's participation tend to be overstated, resulting in higher reported annual participation rates than administrative data suggest.


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