School meals linked to higher attendance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 2010

FLORENCE (AP) — Lunchtime is a highly anticipated part of every school day, but it is more than just a break from the rigors of the classroom it can lead to educational advancement because it encourages some students to attend school more regularly, according to a recent study.

Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Public Policy Peter Hinrichs authored the study evaluating the long-term health and educational effects of participation in the National School Lunch Program.

The study determined a lunch program, particularly for students from low-income families, may provide the only meal some students have all day.

“The research found that the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has not had a dramatic effect on health into adulthood, but it has had a significant effect on educational attainment,” Hinrichs said. “The NSLP today is still broad in its reach, but it targets poorer children. There are higher standards for eligibility and also special funding for poorer schools. Had these elements been in place at the inception of the program, there may have been a more detectable effect on health in its early years.”

The program began in 1946 under President Harry Truman. It was largely inspired after 16 percent of otherwise eligible soldiers were disqualified from serving in World War II because they were malnourished or underfed.

Local school officials said the findings in the report are what they’ve known all along: School meals are what keep many students coming back.

“We’ve all known children who only have the meals provided here at school,” Harlan Principal Shirley Coker said. “To say it’s important for those children is an understatement. But now, in this economy, there are many struggling middle class families and the school breakfast and lunch program is equally important to them. This program reaches all children.”