DOI: 10.1002/hec.4824 ISSN: 1057-9230

Free school meals and cognitive ability: Evidence from China's student nutrition improvement plan

Xueyi Duan, Yinhe Liang, Xiaobo Peng
  • Health Policy


The China Student Nutrition Improvement Plan (SNIP) covers 40.6 million students in the compulsory education stage, accounting for 42% of all students enrolled in rural compulsory education in 2021. This paper utilizes the county‐by‐county rollout of the SNIP and estimates the effect of this nutritional intervention on students' cognitive outcomes. We find that SNIP increases math test scores but has a statistically insignificant effect on verbal achievement. The effect is greater for middle school students and children from disadvantaged families. The SNIP affects the cognitive performance of students by improving their health status, increasing school attendance, fostering good study habits, raising educational expectations, and improving the human capital of peers.

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