WFP reports 41% of children globally have access to nutritious school meals
22 Mar 2023 --- Global crisis levels of hunger affects 345 million people, 153 million of whom are children, according to the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) recently released State of School-Feeding Worldwide report. However, since 2020, the number of children with access to school meals has increased by 30 million, amounting to 41% of school children globally now receiving school meals.
Pointing to the fact that school meals are a “critical safety net for vulnerable children and households,” the WFP reports that 420 million children globally have access to school meals.
To ensure all children get nutritious meals daily by 2030, 76 governments have joined a coalition. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted free lunch programs, which the governments are working to restore, compared to 2020.
“This is good news. Governments are prioritizing children’s well-being and investing in the future,” says Carmen Burbano, head of school-based programs at the WFP.
“As the world grapples with a global food crisis, which risks robbing millions of children of their future, school meals have a vital role to play. In many countries where we work, the meal a child gets in school might be the only meal they get that day,” she continues.
The UK refuses
One government not joining the coalition is the UK. The charity organization School Food Matters and a coalition partner have called on the government to join and provide free and nutritious school meals to all in need.
“In under a year, political leaders from 76 countries, representing 58% of the world’s population, have joined the School Meals Coalition. Despite having one of the longest-standing and most developed school food programs, the UK government refuses to join the organization,” the School Food Matters stress.
“By investing in school feeding programs, the UK government can improve academic outcomes, reduce health inequalities, and support local communities. It’s time to prioritize the health and well-being of our children and invest in their future,” continues the organization.
Last year, the UK government set an income threshold for families setting standards for whether or not their children would be eligible for free school meals. This was criticized by School Food Matters, stating that one in three children living in poverty in the UK does not qualify for free school meals.
The UK government argued that the most disadvantaged are those in most need of support, so the main focus needs to be put there.
Eighty-three stakeholders, including major UN agencies, set three main goals to restore what was lost during the pandemic. By 2023, it aims to reach those missed in low and lower-middle-income countries, and by 2030 to improve the quality and efficacy of school meals globally.
The latter refers to “facilitating a healthy food environment in schools and promoting safe, nutritious and sustainably produced food, linked to local production where appropriate,” reads the report.
Sustain, the UK-based alliance of organizations aiming for better food systems, points out a few countries out of the 76 that already provide its nation’s children with free school food and how improvements have been observed in educational outcomes and nutritional health.
Taking India as an example, with an annual cost of US$2.8 billion to ensure all children have access to a hot meal “no questions asked,” it’s the largest school food for all scheme in the world and has been in place since 1995. Women who have benefitted from the program have been shown to give birth to fewer short children – a common sign of malnutrition.
Another example is Sweden. Children from families in the lowest income quartile who received free school meals for nine years increased their lifetime income by 6%, resulting in a benefit-to-cost ratio of 7:1, Sustain reports.
By Beatrice Wihlander
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.