School lunches, obesity and causality

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Miller-McCune magazine’s Washington correspondent Emily Badger explains how a study found that the National School Lunch program is linked to youth obesity.

ozPhoto by bookgrl via Flickr

Badger takes great pains to put that finding into context, and doesn’t put forth the key causal relationship until the tenth paragraph. In the interim, she talks about the correlation between weight and school lunches, and about the methods the researchers used to tease out causation – namely, the kids’ birth weights and the type of meals they likely received at home. Only then does she deliver the kicker.

Controlling for those two factors, they found that children who participate in the school lunch program are more likely to become obese than those who don’t. In a surprising twist, though, the federally subsidized School Breakfast Program has the opposite effect. (And children who eat both school breakfast and lunch are less heavy than those who participate in neither program.)

That said, and with the caveats already out of the way before the key paragraph, Badger then explores the backwards incentives of the a la carte ice cream sandwich and why a school benefits financially from selling piecemeal junk food.

Miller McCune magazine is an effort of the nonprofit Miller-McCune Center and is dedicated to long-form, in-depth reporting on academic research.


Covering Obesity: A Guide for Reporters

Covering ObesityThe prospect of covering such a broad, engaging and important topic as obesity can be overwhelming. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is designed to help journalists cover a wide range of stories, whether writing on deadline or researching a multipart series. It offers assistance on calculating body mass index, finding obesity statistics on the state level, gauging the quality of school district wellness policies, finding innovative school nutrition policies and much more.

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