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How Healthy School Lunches Help Improve Grades

Ever wonder if those healthy lunches you were eating as a kid actually made a difference? If you were suffering through the crudites for good reason, or if you could have been just double-fisting potato chips with the rest of your friends and life would have been exactly the same? Wonder no more: A recent study found that healthier lunches can improve kids' test scores. Which should surprise exactly no one.

Michael L. Anderson, Justin Gallagher, and Elizabeth Ramirez Ritchie, a group of economists from Berkeley University, recently set out to determine whether or not healthy lunches improved standardized test scores in students. The study, called School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance, looked at whether or not better nutrition would affect heightened cognitive function. The group looked at every public school in California over a five-year period, paying particular attention to the type of food vendor each school has contracted to provide lunches.

What they found was a marked improvement in test scores in students whose school had contracted with a healthier school-lunch vendor — great news for school administrators who have been feeling the pressure to deliver higher test scores to ensure federal funds for their schools. With teachers and administrators developing different ways to improve test scores, including everything from bonuses for teachers based on test scores to banning cell phones in the classroom, it looks as though the answer for some could be as simple as a healthy lunch.

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One of the study's co-authors, Michael L. Anderson, an associate professor of economics for the University of California, explained that there were also financial benefits of a healthy lunch program to The Atlantic:

When school boards are going out and contracting with these vendors, what they're thinking is that they're going to improve the health of the students, that they'll get them to eat healthier. I don't think they're thinking of it as a tool to actually improve academic performance [but] we found that it is. Something that is basically cheap, that is going to improve student health, and that has test-score gains seems like it would be very attractive [to] policymakers.
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Of course, this could all have an impact on the current state of politics, if legislators will listen. In 2012, the No Kid Hungry (or Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) was passed on a federal level, requiring schools to limit sodium and sugar in their lunch offerings while providing fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That law is in danger of being overturned.

Iowa Rep. Steve King, specifically, might want to have a look at this recent study linking healthy lunches to better test scores — King just authored H.R. 610, a bill that would effectively end the responsibility of schools to provide healthy lunches. He wants to see children offered more carbohydrates, more meat, and get rid of guidelines requiring fresh fruits and vegetables.

Maybe he didn't get the memo about healthy diets and better test scores. He might want to do his research.