Children of mid-day meal scheme beneficiaries show better growth: Study

Topics Mid day meal | Schools | children

The MDM scheme was launched by the central government in 1995 to provide free cooked meal to children in government and government-assisted primary schools
Girls, who received free food in primary schools as part of the mid-day meal programme, have been found to give birth to children who have better growth, a new study has found.

The study, which was recently published in journal Nature Communications, is titled 'Intergenerational nutrition benefits of India’s national school feeding program'. It has been co-authored by University of Washington’s Suman Chakrabarti and International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI’s) Samuel Scott, Harold Alderman, Purnima Menon and Daniel Gilligan.

The study used nationally representative data on mothers and their children from 1993 to 2016 to assess whether mid-day meals support intergenerational improvements in a child’s linear growth.

The mid-day meal scheme was launched by the central government in 1995 to provide free cooked meals to children in government and government-aided primary schools (classes I–V; ages 6–10 years).

It was intended to cover all government schools under the National Programme of Nutritional Support for Primary Education. However, due to institutional challenges, only a few states scaled up the programme immediately.

National Sample Survey (NSS)-consumer expenditure survey (CES) data from 1999 shows that only 6 per cent of all girls aged 6–10 years received mid-day meals in school.

However, between 1999 and 2004, the programme’s coverage increased in many states, largely due to an order from the Supreme Court of India. The apex court directed state governments to provide cooked mid-day meals in primary schools.

In 2004, 32 per cent of Indian girls aged 6–10 years were covered by the programme, which rose to 46 per cent by 2011, as substantial sums were allocated to the scheme. Coverage among boys was similar throughout this period.

The study also found that the 14 states which rolled out mid-day meals in the late 1990s experienced improvements in child height earlier than the rest of the nation. These states scaled up the mid-day meal programme in the 2000s after the Supreme Court mandate.

“Our findings suggest that intervening during the primary school years can make important contributions to reducing future child stunting, particularly given the cumulative exposure that is possible through school feeding programmes," said study co-author Chakrabarti.

The findings also show that school meals may contribute to education, later fertility decisions, and access to health care, reducing the risk of undernutrition in the next generation, the researchers said.

“School feeding programmes such as India's mid-day meal scheme have the potential for stimulating population-level stunting reduction as they are implemented at scale and target multiple underlying determinants of undernutrition in vulnerable groups,” said co-author Scott.

Co-author Alderman noted that findings from previous evaluations of India's mid-day meal scheme have shown a positive association with beneficiaries' school attendance, learning achievement, hunger and protein-energy malnutrition, and resilience to health shocks such as drought.

Further research is required to understand whether improving the quality or quantity of meals and extending the programme beyond primary school enhances its benefits, the researchers added.

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