Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health


Health Science and Human Ecology

First Reader/Committee Chair

Malik, Neal


Background: Childhood obesity is a major public health issue in the United States (U.S.) and recent data have shown that the incidence and prevalence have been increasing over the past 20 years. Poor dietary habits are often attributed to these increasing rates. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides meals and snacks to over 30 million students. Therefore, determining whether an association exists between student participation in the NSLP, and their respective body mass index (BMI) is critical. Few studies have examined a family’s economic stability and the child’s race as potential moderating variables. This study aimed to investigate whether those students who participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have a higher BMI when compared to students who do not participate in the NSLP. An examination of the influence race and economic stability was included in the analyses, as well.

Methods: After a thorough literature review, secondary survey data collected by the U.S. Census and National Center for Education Statistics were analyzed. Data related to participation in free or reduced-price school meal programs as well as data regarding the race and economic stability of those participants were extracted. Kruskal-Wallis H tests were performed to determine whether an association existed between participation in the NSLP and the participants’ BMI. In order to assess the potential influence of moderating variables, race and economic stability were also included in the analyses.

Results: A total of 15,136 responses were analyzed. Results revealed participation in the NSLP had a small, positive effect on students’ BMI. Race and a family’s economic stability also had small, positive effects on NSLP participants’ BMI. Interestingly, those families reporting struggling very often economically did not appear to be associated with BMI.

Conclusion: Results suggest that participation in the NSLP is associated with participants’ BMI. Race and a family’s economic stability also appeared to have a small influence on BMI. While a cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be determined, these results are of particular importance given their potential to influence the long-term health of millions of students.