Professor studies how school food impacts attendance

Sharon Kukla Acevedo, Ph.D., compared the benefits nutritious food has on student attendance

| Author: Hadlee Rinn | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Sharon Kukla Acevedo, Ph.D., a professor of Public Administration and director of the Master of Public Administration program, compared the costs and benefits of four programs designed to improve student’s attendance. In the US, one in six public school students are chronically absent (have missed 15+ days of school in the past year). Poor attendance can lead to students being retained in a grade, dropping out of school, substance abuse and future unemployment.  

In her research, Kukla Acevedo set out to discover if providing more nutritious food could be as effective as attendance-improving programs. Kukla Acevedo says, “Improving the quality of students’ food at school is just as effective at improving attendance rates and is a cheaper option than some of the programs designed to reduce absences. Choosing to provide more nutritious food [also] improves children’s behaviors, physical, and mental health. [Additionally], these behaviors last into adulthood.” 

To conduct her research, Kukla Acevedo used published costs and benefits of a low-cost, medium-cost and high-cost absence-reduction programs and compared these findings to her own research on costs and benefits of nutritious food and attendance. 

Kukla Acevedo says, “We thought that the nutritious food option would be prohibitively expensive because that is so often the focus of the national conversation about food. So, we were surprised that our cost analysis showed that nutritious food option was so cheap and effective at improving attendance. The hope is that superintendents, school nutrition directors, and education officials use these findings to make school-based decisions.” 

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