The Having lunch (MDM) to plan in India one of the world’s largest free school lunch programs – around 116 million children are covered by the national program. A new analysis examining the intergenerational impact of providing free meals in elementary schools found that beneficiaries’ children continue to have better prospects for growth in life.
The report, entitled “Intergenerational Nutrition Benefits of India’s National School Feeding Program,” was published in nature On Monday. “School meals promote education and nutrition for participants, but no studies have looked at whether the benefits carry over to their children,” the paper says.
The researchers used data from mothers and children between 1993 and 2016 to measure the effects of diet from free meals across generations. They found that women who received free meals in elementary school had children with improved linear growth – that is, better physical growth complemented by cognitive and socio-emotional development. Failure to achieve adequate linear growth is associated with malnutrition and the accumulation of other pathological changes known as “Growth syndrome. “
“Our results suggest that interventions during elementary school can make an important contribution to reducing future growth retardation in children, especially given the cumulative exposure possible through school feeding programs,” says Suman Chakrabarti, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI.). ) said.
In India, 38% of children were reported to be stunted between 2015 and 2016. Addressing nutritional deficiencies in the school phase is critical to proper growth and development of an individual. The findings address the problem of stunted growth in children and demonstrate the important role diet and free meals like the MDM play in helping children reach their developmental potential. These nutritional benefits are then passed on to future generations.
“Findings from previous evaluations of the Indian MDM program have shown positive associations with school attendance, learning outcomes, hunger and malnutrition of protein and energy, and resilience to health shocks such as drought – all of which can have an impact on the children born.” Mothers who participated in the program, “Harold Alderman, co-author of the study and researcher at IFPRI, said.
The current study is also relevant against the background of the pandemic; MDM free meals have slowed down. Due to school closings, the children also had to forego the nutritional benefits of meals.
Experts fear that this could be the case hit a punch to years of progress in combating malnutrition and stunted growth.
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MDM has one long story in India, which dates back to 1925 before it was officially introduced in 1995. The program offers children in state and state-sponsored elementary schools (ages 6-10) a free cooked meal. According to the scheme, the minimum energy content of a meal is 450 kcal, and the meal must contain 12 grams of protein.
The free lunch program is compulsory and its reach has increased every year; The resulting nutritional benefits are also linked to better access to education and health care. Within the study, MDM was associated with 13â32% improvements in Height-for-Age Z-Scores (HAZ) in India from 2006 to 2016. The HAZ is a marker for a child’s nutritional development.
“School feeding programs such as India’s MDM program have the potential to stimulate population-level stagnation reductions because they are widely implemented and target several underlying determinants of malnutrition in vulnerable groups,” said study co-author Samuel Scott who have favourited opportunities of the MDM program’s gifts. In particular, the number of beneficiaries using the MDM program has increased over the years. During 2016â2017, 97.8 million children received a free cooked meal per day under the program.
Despite the spread of the MDM program, India is still home to most of the undernourished children. In the 2020 World Hunger Index, India ranks 9th out of 107 countries. The newest National Family Health Survey-5 showed that malnutrition is the most common problem in children.
The current results focus on the possibilities that the MDM offers and reaffirm the idea of ââoffering free, hot, cooked meals to counter malnutrition. In January of this year, the United Nations World Food Program named the program called âLifesavingâ for millions of children.
Researchers say more study is needed to understand whether improving the quality or quantity of meals on offer – and even expanding the program beyond elementary school – could further enhance the benefits of MDM and make them more accessible.