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Evaluating the success of the school commodity food program

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Since its origin in the middle of the 20th century, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has provided a direct policy link between agriculture and child nutrition through its allocation of commodity foods as in-kind benefits to schools. When nutrient deficiency was the primary concern for children’s health, the school commodity program provided a convenient policy solution for lawmakers, for it simultaneously supported agricultural producers through consolidated purchases and assisted schools to provide meals to students. While the broad objectives of federal agriculture policy—to support market growth and stable prices—have remained relatively constant over the past half century, the objectives for children’s health policy have been significantly redirected because of new concerns about nutrition and obesity. School operational capabilities have also changed substantially since the NSLP’s first years. Despite these changes, little research has been conducted to examine whether the link between agriculture and health within the school commodity program continues to offer benefits for its intended beneficiaries. This article reviews the school commodity program’s original policy objectives in light of current information about the program’s impact on schools, child nutrition, and the agricultural sector.

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