Reading, Writing and Raisinets: Are School Finances Contributing to Children's Obesity?
The proportion of adolescents in the United States who are obese has nearly tripled over the last two decades. At the same time, schools, often citing financial pressures, have given students greater access to "junk" foods, using proceeds from the sales to fund school programs. We examine whether schools under financial pressure are more likely to adopt potentially unhealthful food policies. We find that a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of access to junk food leads to about a one percent increase in students' body mass index (BMI). However, this average effect is entirely driven by adolescents who have an overweight parent, for whom the effect of such food policies is much larger (2.2%). This suggests that those adolescents who have a genetic or family susceptibility to obesity are most affected by the school food environment. A rough calculation suggests that the increase in availability of junk foods in schools can account for about one-fifth of the increase in average BMI among adolescents over the last decade.
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