School Meals Effective But Lack Support, Report Shows

A beneficiary of  WFP's school meals programme in Bolivia

Copyright: WFP/Gabriele Giugni

As governments grapple with fallout from the global economic crisis, a new report from WFP and the World Bank shows that school meals and similar programmes are vital to keeping children in school, improving their learning and health, and promoting food security.

WASHINGTON – School meals programmes in poor countries boost school attendance and help children perform better in class, but they are getting too little support from the international aid community, according to a report released in Washington on Tuesday. Read news release

In the current economic climate, poor countries face the double burden of trying to expand under-funded school meals programmes while at the same time fending off the worst effects of the financial, food, and fuel crises, continues the report -- Rethinking School Feeding: Social Safety Nets, Child Development, and the Education Sector.

“What is clear from this report is that we are beyond the debate about whether school feeding makes sense as a way to reach the most vulnerable,” say WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick in a joint foreword to the report.

Cost-effective and sustainable

“In the face of global crises, we must now focus on how school feeding programs can be designed and implemented in a cost-effective and sustainable way to benefit and protect those most in need of help today and in the future.”

School meals can be rapidly deployed as a social safety net in poor countries but, unfortunately, the countries with the greatest needs often run small, underfunded programs that cannot meet demand.

"At this critical hour of rising need, nations must stand together to help those who most risk tipping into crisis," said Josette Sheeran, WFP Executive Director at the presentation.

Social safety net

"Nations such as Brazil and China have demonstrated that social safety net programs like school meals help protect nutritionally vulnerable children and ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable do not plunge into destitution.”

In partnership with the World Bank, WFP is working with nations to create the next generation of school meal programs that are sustainable and effective — drawing, where possible, from the produce of local farmer, Sheeran said.

According to the new report, school meals are especially effective when twinned with other measures such as de-worming and accompanies by micronutrient-fortified snacks and biscuits, or vitamin supplements.