Healthy Food Boosts School Results

In 2004 UK TV chef Jam­ie Oliv­er ran an exper­i­ment at a school in Green­wich, Lon­don for an upcom­ing show of his, Jam­ie’s School Din­ners. By vari­ous means Oliv­er attemp­ted to improve the eat­ing habits of the school’s stu­dents and, by-and-large, succeeded. Track­ing his progress–and that of the children–were two Oxford eco­nom­ists, Michele Belot and Jonath­an James.

The two noted how Oliv­er­’s cam­paign had inad­vert­ently cre­ated “a near-per­fect exper­i­ment” and so began fol­low­ing the aca­dem­ic achieve­ments of the chil­dren with much super­i­or eat­ing habits than their peers and the school as a whole.

Five years later the exper­i­ment star­ted to show res­ults: spe­cific­ally, that the eat­ing habits of school chil­dren has a pro­found pos­it­ive effect on their edu­ca­tion.

Their answer – a pro­vi­sion­al one, since they are still refin­ing the research – is that feed­ing primary school kids less fat, sug­ar and salt, and more fruit and veget­ables, has a sur­pris­ingly large effect. Author­ised absences, the best avail­able proxy for ill­ness, fell by 15 per cent in Green­wich, rel­at­ive to schools in sim­il­ar Lon­don bor­oughs. And rel­at­ive to oth­er bor­oughs, the pro­por­tion of chil­dren reach­ing Level Four* in Eng­lish rose by four and a half per­cent­age points (more than six per cent), while the pro­por­tion of chil­dren achiev­ing Level Five* in Sci­ence rose by six points, or almost 20 per cent.

* I freely admit my ignor­ance: I’ve no idea what these levels refer to. (And I’m not a fan of Jam­ie Oliv­er, if you were won­der­ing.)