Breakfasts at school have had a great effect on learning outcomes and it looks like the same goes for lunch according to an investigation of 120 million Indian students.
India’s midday meal program is the largest school lunch program in the world and it has proven to be a good investment with results showing a good lunch makes for significantly better students.
The effect is cumulative as the more years of school lunches indicated better scores during testing.
Children with up to five years of midday meals have been shown to score 18% higher in reading test scores than those of students with less than a year of school lunches. They also showed an improvement of 9% for maths test scores.
Professors Rajshri Jayaraman from ESMT Berlin and Tanika Chakraborty from the Indian Institute of Technology studied the effects of India's midday meal scheme, the world's largest free school lunch program which feeds over 120 million children every day.
"The effect of nutrition appears to be cumulative, seen over time," says Prof Jayaraman. "Previous studies have varied between two weeks and two years, and failed to capture the important impact – our research shows that the real benefit of school lunches was seen in children exposed for two to five years."
This is the longest and largest study into the effect of midday meals on primary school-aged children's learning. The researchers used data from nearly 600 rural districts in India, covering over 200,000 households. Due to the staggered implementation of the program across districts, they were able to identify the causal effect of regular meals on learning.
The findings confirm the value for children of free school meal programs. According to the World Food Program, 368 million children globally – one in five – received a school meal in 2013.
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