School Meals: Where Need Is Greatest, Coverage Is Lowest, WFP Report Finds

One of the many benefits of school meals programmes are their power as an incentive for parents to send young girls to school in communities where school attendance among girls is low. Copyright: WFP/Rein Skullerud

The first State of School Feeding Worldwide report, produced by WFP, provides a global picture of developments in school feeding, with maps, analysis, and research. It shows that despite huge global investment in school meals programmes, many needy children are not covered.

ROME -- One in five of the world’s children gets a meal at school every day, yet where the need is greatest - in low-income countries – the proportion of children reached by school meals programmes is at its lowest, according to a new report by WFP.

By supplying nutritious food, school meals programmes not only allow children to concentrate on their studies, they also protect them from hunger and malnutrition, especially during shocks such as the food, fuel and financial crises of 2008.

“School feeding is an investment that pays off in the future with better educated, stronger and healthier adults and it’s also a critical safety net to prevent the most vulnerable from suffering in times of crisis,” said WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, as the UN food  agency launched The State of School Feeding Worldwide report.

School meals around the world

The WFP report provides the first global picture of developments in school feeding. Compiled with the collaboration of the World Bank and the Partnership for Child Development, the report analyses school feeding programmes in well-off countries as well as in developing nations, and provides data on how governments use school meals as a “safety net” in times of crisis.

According to the research, around 368 million children – about 1 out of every 5 – get a meal at school every day in 169 developing and developed countries. Global investment in these programmes  is about US$ 75 billion, with most coming from government budgets.

Yet despite the global nature of school feeding, the coverage of these programmes is lowest where they are most needed. In low-income countries, where children are most likely to be poor and hungry, only 18 percent receive a daily meal at school, compared to nearly 49 percent of children in middle-income countries.

In the past five years, at least 38 countries have scaled up their school feeding programmes in response to a crisis, whether related to food prices, conflict, natural disaster or financial volatility.  

“In the current recession, even wealthy nations are examining how school meals can prevent families sliding deeper into poverty and hunger,” said State of School Feeding Worldwide lead author Carmen Burbano. See 60-sec clip of Carmen talking about the report

School feeding provides obvious benefits in terms of education and nutrition. But it can also be a way to boost local agriculture. For every $1 spent by governments and donors, at least $3 is gained in economic returns, WFP estimates in the new report.

WFP has been operating school meals programmes in developing countries for more than half a century. In 2012, WFP provided meals or nutritious snacks in school for 24.7 million children in 63 countries. Learn more

School feeding as an investment

WFP’s Centre of Excellence Against Hunger in Brazil has this week co-hosted the world’s biggest gathering of school feeding experts – the Global Child Nutrition Forum. According to the Centre’s head Daniel Balaban, "school meals are not an expenditure, they're an investment". Listen to the podcast