Swedish study demonstrates lasting benefits of free school lunches

According to a team of Swedish scientists who decided to look into their country’s free lunch program, providing free and nutritious school lunches to students gives them benefits that last after they complete their academic endeavors.

The study, which was published last month in the journal The Review of Economic Studies, explores the real-life impact that free school lunches have on the children who receive them. According to their findings, students with access to the program grew taller, kept healthy throughout their life, and earned more money over the course of their careers than those who didn’t.

These results certainly indicate that providing school children with nutritious meals is a long-term investment that is well worth it. Children who have the opportunity to eat well will continue to reap the benefits of that nutrition later on in life both physically and financially.

To put it in measured terms, on average, students who ate free lunches throughout their academic careers grew a centimeter taller than those who didn’t and ended up with three percent higher incomes later in life. These benefits aren’t exclusive to higher-income families either. In fact, they were even more pronounced for children from lower-income families (their incomes rose by six percent rather than three) who might not have been able to provide such high-quality meals on their own.

Petter Lundborg, a Lund University economist and co-author of the study stated, “Today, we take school lunches for granted in Sweden. But the fact is, it was a very conscious investment when Sweden introduced free lunches in the 1940s.”

Lundborg continues, “It is important for many countries, even today because school meals and their nutritional content is a recurring issue… our results show significant long-term economic benefits of school meals.”

Hopefully, countries such as the US that continually debate the benefits of initiatives such as universal healthcare, free school lunches, and other programs that are common in many other developed nations will finally be convinced to implement such programs when faced with what they stand to gain, economically and otherwise.

Source study: The Review of Economic Studies—Long-term effects of childhood nutrition: Evidence from a school lunch reform

Additional resources: Phys.org—Free and nutritious school lunches help create richer and healthier adults

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