Adequate (or Adipose?) Yearly Progress: Assessing the Effect of "No Child Left Behind" on Children's Obesity

Patricia M. Anderson, Kristin F. Butcher, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

NBER Working Paper No. 16873
Issued in March 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   HE

This paper investigates how accountability pressures under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may affect children's rate of overweight. Schools facing increased pressures to produce academic outcomes may reallocate their efforts in ways that have unintended consequences for children's health. For example, schools may cut back on recess and physical education in favor of increasing time on tested subjects. To examine the impact of school accountability programs, we create a unique panel data set of schools in Arkansas that allows us to test the impact of NCLB rules on students' weight outcomes. Our main approach is to consider schools to be facing increased pressures if they are on the margin of passing - that is, if any subgroup at the school has a passing rate that is close to the AYP passing threshold, where we define close as being 5 percentage points above or below the threshold. We find evidence of small effects of accountability pressures on the percent of students at a school that are overweight. A follow-up survey of school principals points to reductions in physical activity and worsening of the food environment as potential mechanisms.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16873

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