Start Date: November 2023

ID #: 81355

Principal Investigator: Stéphane Verguet, PhD, MPP, MS

Co-Principal Investigator: Juliana Cohen, ScD, ScM

Organization: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Funding Round: HER Round 13

See more related research


Growing evidence suggests free school meal policies improve student health outcomes and nutrition equity. A key barrier to passage of these policies is concerns regarding potential costs, thus, a broader value for money evaluation is essential to inform policy decisions. This study aims to compare ‘intervention’ states with free school meal policies (i.e., universal free school meals [UFSM], removal of reduced-price meals, and/or expanded eligibility for free school meals) with control states (i.e., traditional means-tested approach) to estimate their broader value for money along the domains of public health and human capital (i.e., education), along with their equity and distributional impact. In collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) and data requests from states, data will be collected at the school, state, and federal levels for intervention and matched control states. Data will be collected in 12 intervention and 12 matched control states (selected based on similar demographics, including race/ethnicity, percent poverty, child food insecurity rates, and political leaning). Using benefit-cost analysis approaches, an economic evaluation of free school meal policies will be conducted. The impact of these policies on public health and human capital, along with their comprehensive implementation costs, will be estimated.

Resource Type: Grant Summary

Focus Area: School & After School

Keyword: School meal programs

Related Research

November 2023

Assessing participation in and implementation of summer electronic-benefits-transfer and non-congregate-meal programs in rural areas

Summer EBT and non-congregate meals are summer meal options that have known associations with reducing food hardship and barriers to food access. But take-up can vary across states, which creates disparities among marginalized populations. The study aims to analyze the coverage, take-up, and implementation decisions made around Summer EBT and non-congregate meals. The research team More

November 2023

Developing and evaluating a marketing campaign to increase school-meal participation to improve children’s dietary quality and reduce food insecurity

Increasing participation in school meals could reduce food insecurity and improve dietary quality, especially for low-income children, but low-cost, scalable strategies for increasing participation in school meals have not yet been identified or evaluated. This study will design and rigorously evaluate a marketing campaign to encourage participation in school meals. The study has three aims: More

August 2023

Challenges and Opportunities for Equity in US School Meal Programs: A Scoping Review of Qualitative Literature Regarding the COVID-19 Emergency

The emergency school meals program provided free meals to children in the United States (US) during COVID-19-related school closures. This scoping review aims to synthesize the existing qualitative empirical evidence published between March 2020 and January 2023 on the operations and utilization of emergency school meal programs during the pandemic. Qualitative, US-based peer-reviewed literature was More