Factors Affecting Students' Participation in the Cincinnati Public Schools Lunch Program

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The decline of participation in the school lunch program by high school students has become a serious problem. In spite of the availability of free lunches to needy school-age children, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that only 22.3 million of the nation's 47 million students participated in the National School Lunch Program in 1988. The lack of participation, particularly by high school students, has become a serious problem for those concerned with school lunch consumption (Akin, Bass, Guildey, & Popkin (1981).

In examining high school students' behavior and attitudes toward the school lunch program, several factors that affect participation have been identified in other research. The desire to please friends by eating lunch with them is a strong factor in participation (Becker, 1984). Students whose parents had a positive attitude toward the lunch program were more likely to participate (Robinson, 1978; Wellisch et al., 1983).

Giving secondary school students a choice in their selection of lunchroom items is said to have a positive influence on participation. However, Hundrup (1967) stated in her study of high school students in Utah that students responded with a higher percentage of participation when given menu choice only occasionally, as opposed to daily.

The price of the school lunch was another important factor examined by researchers. It was considered to be a primary factor influencing participation (Callahan, 1971).

Several studies cited the lunchroom atmosphere as having an effect. In particular, several studies cite insufficient time allocated for lunch to be a major factor (Garret & Vaden (1978).

The purposes of this study were to identify factors affecting participation of high school students in the lunch program, identify factors that differentiate free and reduced-price eligible secondary students who participate in the program from those who do not, and make specific recommendations for ways to increase students' participation.

METHOD

The study was conducted during the spring of 1990, in eight Cincinnati public high schools. The instrument used to collect the data was a questionnaire with a comment sheet. Students were randomly selected from four grade-level homerooms (nine through twelve), English classes and social science classes. They were asked to fill out a demographic survey (anonymously) and a computerized answer sheet.

Of the 10,550 high school students, 1,804 (17%) participated in the study. The data collected from the surveys were recorded and coded by the students on computerized answer sheets. The answers were then viewed by a computer scanner and the results tabulated. SAS computer analysis system was used to examine the answer sheets. Statistical analysis was done using the t-test, f-test, and chi-square.

School demographics. The School Plate Lunch followed the Standard Meal Pattern and was served Monday through Friday. All the high schools operated on a "closed campus" policy; thus students are not permitted to leave the school grounds during lunch time unless given special permission. Students may select either the regular plate lunch or a la carte items in addition to or independent of the school lunch.

The school district consists of 55,000 school-age children, with approximately 10,550 seniors. Of these, 55% are from low-income families. Nearly one-third (31%) were eligible for free and reduced price lunches. The ethnic makeup was 62% black, 36% white, 1% Asian, 0.14% Hispanic, and 0.10% American Indian. The percentage of males and females was almost equal: 51% male, 49% female.

An almost equal number of freshmen (26.4%), sophomores (24%), juniors (24.2%), and seniors (25.3%) participated in the study.

Students were asked to identify their lunch status (free, reduced price or paid lunch status) and whether they did or did not participate in the school lunch program. …