Outcomes

Outcomes on food security and education
Studies have shown a positive correlation between school meal programs and increased food security. Among low-income children, the marginal food insecurity rate of those with access to the School Breakfast Program was lower than that of those children without access to the program. There is a lower probability of marginal household food insecurity among low-income children with access to the SBP. Studies have shown that the increase in food security does not have significant long-term health effects, but has a positive impact on education. These results may suggest that subsidised lunches induce children to attend school, and also free up food at home for other family members to consume. Researchers from the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute have found that "increasing NSLP exposure by ten percentage points results in an average increase in education of .365 years" for women, and for men this same increase in exposure "increases average education by nearly a year". Participation in grades seven through twelve "has a stronger effect on educational attainment than participating in the earlier grades does, whereas there is some evidence suggesting that participation in earlier grades is more important for the health outcomes". Today, the NSLP reaches a broad base of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. To an extent, it is targeted towards children from lower socio-economics backgrounds, and it has a positive effect on their educational outcomes.

Issues surrounding school meal programs
The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, in light of their benefits to long-term educational outcomes, have been continuously criticized for what their aims are, how they impact student health, and whether they reach out to students who are food insecure. Until the 1970s, the NSLP reached a small percentage of American children and served few free lunches. Therefore, it does not reach out to all of those children in need. School meals have also been criticized for the ways in which the nation's food and agricultural interests for control over school menus have exploited these welfare programs.

Despite criticisms about the nutritional flaws of these programs, others contend that they provide crucial public welfare support for nation's youth. It is believed that they provide an opportunity for alleviating issues of food insecurity and thus improving the educational outcomes of the most impoverished children, in turn helping to alleviate issues of poverty and inequality that exist as a result of a lack of education. To fix the issues associated with school meal programs, it will require building a "political coalition that is committed to an agenda that links child nutrition to agriculture, food policy, and social welfare."

Eligibility concerns
The NSLP faces the continuous challenge of encouraging eligible households to apply for participation while preventing loss of program benefits through errors in certification of eligible recipients. There are major concerns regarding the NSLP in the area of eligibility certification. In 2011 a government website reported that there was over $8.9 billion in payments or outlays to school foodservice providers, $1.5 billion of which were paid in behalf of ineligible recipients. That is a 16.3 percent improper payout rate. New policies that have come into effect are expected to reduce, but not totally eliminate, some of these improper payouts. Government estimates show a targeted improper payout rate of 14.7 percent by 2014 but their targeted rate for 2012 was 15.5 percent, which they failed to reach. Federal cuts in subsidies for full-price meals have gone up much more slowly than the rising costs of foods and labor. School districts vary greatly in many areas including size, income of population served, labor costs, etc. These variances make the generalizations that are associated with a national program like the NSLP have an unfavorable effect on many school districts.

Results of programs
An article in the Wilson Quarterly of Spring 2011 tells of the effectiveness of the NSLP in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District located in suburban St. Louis. Linda Henke, a superintendent of the school district, said " . . . I was struck by the positive vibe around the revamped program. A teacher said he'd lost seven pounds by eating in the high school cafeteria every school day for the previous three months. A senior girl who had embraced the changes from the beginning observed that even she was surprised when football players started eating salads. The elementary school's cook of 14 years told me her job is now harder, but it's rewarding" (Hinman, 2011). This suggests that a healthy school lunch is now more popular because of Linda Henke's vision to change to the NSLP. The article continues to say "It takes a tough-minded school leader to assert that nutrient-rich food is the right choice for kids - and that it's an appropriate use of government dollars. Kids will complain initially but will come around. And a number of collateral benefits follow when students eat well. Anecdotal reports from schools with healthful and flavorful food indicate that teachers have started eating with students, attendance rates are higher, and fewer students fall asleep in class or commit vandalism and violence at school." Ultimately the NSLP in suburban St. Louis is gaining more and more participation in the school lunch program.

A different article addresses the positive effect of the NSLP within the L.A. Unified School District (Schilling, 2012). The district's Food Service Director, David Binkle, said the following, "From what I see and what I hear now that students are getting used to the new menus and they have tasted it, they like it. Any time you make a change, and the major change like this, that's an evolution that we have to go through. There's going to be people now saying the meal is too healthy for the kids and it's stuff they don't know. The reality of this is the rest of the country is about to see what we've gone through when they adopt the new meal pattern regulations. We did this on purpose so that we could really get out ahead of this and start to work through it and adjust. I think the rest of the country is going to see a lot of the same impact that we've seen this year." Additionally, Binkle validates participation in the program by saying, "What I keep hearing from the principals is that as we keep tweaking and teaching and encouraging the kids, more and more kids are participating" (2012). Overall, research literature overwhelmingly shows that there is an upward trend in NSLP participation. Hinman describes another challenge: "Since 2004, the USDA has administered the HealthierUS School Challenge, awarding distinction but no money, to schools that voluntarily improve the healthfulness of their meals. By last fall, only a paltry 841 of the 101,000 schools in the NSLP (less than one percent) had received awards. That leaves a lot of schools that are still promoting Tater Tot Day and reheating frozen pizzas." The HealthierUS School Challenge is a voluntary certification initiative recognizing schools that have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity. Schools that apply may be awarded HUSSC certification and monetary incentives. As of March 11, 2014, there are 6,706 schools certified, which is 6 percent of the schools participating in the NSLP. Although there are challenges moving forward, the research suggests positive participation rates in the NSLP now and in coming years. Ultimately the value of the literature suggests there will be an increase in students, teachers, and others embracing the NSLP in the future.

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