Policymakers and school district officials hope to reduce childhood obesity by improving the nutrition of school lunches. The Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires that the calorie content of lunches served as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) must fall within ranges that are lower than previously required. This study explores whether the calorie reductions required as part of the new regulation will affect household’s perception of or demand for NSLP lunches. To answer this question, we implement a choice experiment via an online survey to parents of school-aged children from a suburban Ohio school district. In the choice experiment, parents are shown a weekly menu where each meal’s content, calorie level, and price are randomly assigned. They are asked to rate the meal in terms of the meal’s perceived healthfulness and in terms of the likelihood their child would eat the meal (palatability). Parents are then shown meal price and indicate whether their child would purchase the meal. We model the purchase decision as a function of the perceived health rating, perceived palatability rating, lunch price, total meal calorie content, and the household’s current lunch purchase frequency using a random-effects probit model. Meals that were perceived to be healthier and more palatable were more likely to be chosen for purchase from the menu. Total meal calorie content was not a direct factor behind lunch purchases. However, it was a driver of perceived health in the first-stage regression. Specifically, higher calories had a significant, negative effect on the health rating for two of the three income groups, suggesting that regulations that the lower calorie content of school lunches will have a small, positive effect on lunch sales for this sample.


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