New study suggests universal free meals improve school climate

Students whose schools offer universal free meals feel safer both in and out of the classroom, the study reveals.
High school students sitting in the cafeteria.
Photo: Shutterstock

A new study suggests that universal free meals may reduce bullying and fighting among K-12 students.

The study, which was published by nonprofit Urban Institute, looked at survey responses from middle- and high- schoolers as well as data from the New York City Department of Education to see if universal free meals impacted the school climate.

It found that all students, regardless of their families’ income, said they felt safer outside and inside of school and that there was less bullying and fighting once their school implemented universal free meals. Students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals were also more eager to participate in school meals when they became universally free.

Advocates for universal free meals include the School Nutrition Association, which has called on Congress to make universal free meals permanent for all K-12 students participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.