Midday meals leave a long-lasting impact
GS II - Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
- Girls who had access to free lunches provided at government schools had children with a higher height-to-age ratio than those who did not, said a new study on the inter-generational benefits of the midday meal scheme, published in Nature Communications.
- More than one in three Indian children are stunted, or too short for their age, which reflects chronic undernutrition.
- The fight against stunting has often focussed on boosting nutrition for young children, but nutritionists have long argued that maternal health and well-being is the key to reducing stunting in their offspring.
- 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 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 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.
- Although 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.