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Child development and obesity prevention: evidence from the Chilean School Meals Program

Caro, Juan Carlos (2020): Child development and obesity prevention: evidence from the Chilean School Meals Program.

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Abstract

Childhood obesity is one of the major public health challenges of the 21stcentury.Evidence suggests that timely nutrition and stimulation interventions can prevent excessive weight gain, however little is known about the effects of scaled-up programs. I use a national administrative dataset to explore the short- and long-run exposure effects to the Chilean School Meal Program (SMP) on the nutritional status of children attending public and subsidized schools. I estimate the effects on the standarized body mass index (BMI) using a Regression Discontinuity design based on the SMP eligibility cutoffs over a household vulnerability score. Participation in 1stgrade reduces average BMI of girls but not boys in the same year. Effects are concentrated among overweight or obese children. Effects are driven by improvements in nutritional quality of meals.Non-sedentary students, children with higher socioemotional skills, and those receiving mental health services reap larger benefits from the SMP. Continued participation from1stgrade reduces boys’ average BMI at 5thgrade, relative to never participants.

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