Midday meals have a long-lasting impact: study

July 19, 2021 12:00 am | Updated 06:13 am IST

Basic nutrition:A file photo of children having midday meal at a school in Vijayawada.K.V.S. Giri

Basic nutrition:A file photo of children having midday meal at a school in Vijayawada.K.V.S. Giri

The paper was authored by a researcher from the University of Washington and economists and nutrition experts at the International Food Policy Research Institute. It found that the midday meal scheme was associated with 13%-32% of the improvement in the height-for-age z-scores (HAZ) in India between 2006 and 2016.

The linkages between midday meals and lower stunting in the next generation were stronger in the lower socio-economic strata and likely work through women’s education, fertility, and the use of health services, the paper said.

The midday meal scheme was launched in 1995 to provide children in government schools with a free cooked meal with a minimum energy content of 450 kcal.

However, only 6% of girls aged 6-10 years had benefited from the scheme in 1999. By 2011, with an expansion in budget, and state implementation following a Supreme Court order, coverage had grown to 46%.

The study tracked nationally representative cohorts of mothers by birth year and socio-economic status to show how exposure to the scheme reduced stunting in their children.

IFPRI researcher Purnima Menon, one of the authors of the study, said the key takeaway is to “expand and improve school meals now for inter-generational pay-offs not too far down in time.” Tweeting about the study, she said, “Girls in India finish school, get married and have children all in just a few years — so school-based interventions can really help.”

These findings come at a time when the mid-day meal scheme has effectively been put on hold for the last one and a half years, as schools have been closed since March 2020.

rAlthough dry foodgrains or cash transfers have been provided to families instead, food and education advocates have warned that this would not have the same impact as hot cooked meals on the school premises, especially for girl children who face more discrimination at home and are more likely to drop out of school due to the closures.

The findings of the study exacerbate concerns that the interruptions to schooling and to the mid-day meal scheme could have even longer term impacts, hurting the nutritional health of the next generation as well.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.