Impact of the school lunch program on overweight and obesity among junior high school students: a nationwide study in Japan
BACKGROUND:Japan has experienced a low prevalence of childhood obesity. The Japanese nationwide school lunch program is suggested to have helped this phenomenon, but it has not been proven. METHODS:From official statistics, we combined annual data for 2006-15 about the prefecture-level school lunch coverage rate for public junior high school students and the prefecture-level nutritional indicators calculated by randomly selected age-sex groups of 13-15-year olds: the percentage of overweight, obese or underweight children, who are 20% heavier, 30% heavier or 20% lighter than the standard weight by sex, age and height; and mean body weight (kg) or height (cm). We estimated the impact of the school lunch coverage rate on the nutritional indicators in subsequent years, adjusting for the lagged dependent variable and dummies for prefecture, age and year. RESULTS:A 10 percentage point increase in the prefecture-level school lunch coverage rate significantly decreased the percentage of overweight (0.37%, 95% CI: 0.18-0.56) and obesity (0.23%, 0.10-0.37) in subsequent years among boys, but not among girls. No significant effect on the percentage of underweight or mean body weight/height was observed for either sex. CONCLUSIONS:Appropriate nutritional intake through school lunch may be effective to reduce childhood obesity.