School Finances, Junk Food, and Student Obesity

Here is an interesting item from the National Bureau of Economic Research: schools that are under financial pressure are more likely to make junk food available and allow food and beverage advertising to students.

In Reading, Writing and Raisinets: Are School Finances Contributing to Children’s Obesity? (NBER Working Paper No. 11177), co-authors Patricia Anderson and Kristin Butcher combine data from several sources to examine both the effect of financial pressure on school food policies and whether these school food policies help create overweight adolescents. They find that schools that are under financial pressure are more likely to make junk food available to their students, to have “pouring rights” contracts, and to allow food and beverage advertising to students. By using measures that capture financial pressure to predict the fraction of schools in a county with these particular food policies, they then estimate the effect of the fraction of schools in a county with these food policies on adolescent body mass index (BMI).

Now it is just the school either. The research also finds the that having at least one overweight parent is a significant factor as well. In other words, those students who do not have an overweight parent are not likely to have a problem with obesity.

Further, the NBER summary of the article notes that while there are adverse health problems with introducing junk food on campuses, that the revenues generated by the sale of junk food is also used to fund various programs that in the absence of junk food and the revenues thus raised would not be funded. Hence there is a trade off problem here.

[Caveat: This post is based on the articles abstract and NBER summary of the research. Since obtaining a copy of the article would cost me $5, I haven’t read it. If somebody wants to send me $5, I’ll gladly buy a copy, read it and write more on the article.]

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Education, Health, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. DL says:

    Call Michael Moore. He’ll put a stop to thet stuff! “Profit making” that is!

  2. whatever says:

    Like you mention, I think it is the parents – not a daily Coke (less than 200 calories). My non-scientific sampling of kids at airports and beaches inevitably show that a fat kid will have a fat parent (usually two) in tow.

  3. Marcia L. Neil says:

    Check out the Scouts of America and their merit badges — obesity/overweight is one way to prevent simple carry-away scheduled among ambitious troop families.

  4. Ross says:

    Studies at the Action For Healthy Kids regarding the financial health of districts demonstrate that just as much money can be made from the sale of healthful beverages. Indeed, just as often, revenues go up after a district goes soda-free. France has banned all vending in public schools. In the US, a statewide K-12 soda ban passed in California. Many of the largest districts in the US and Canada have gone soda free K-12: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, DC, Austin, Buffalo, Montreal, Quebec City and many more.