Mid-day Meals Contribute to Gen-Z’s Physical Growth, Says Study

A new study on the inter-generation benefits of India’s midday meal scheme published on July 12 by Nature Communications revealed that girls who could access free lunches provided at government schools have a higher height than those who could not.   

The paper showed that the prevalence of stunting was significantly low by 2016 in areas where the mid scheme was implemented in 2005.   

Authored by a researcher from the University of Washington and economists and nutrition experts at the International Food Policy Research Institute, the paper finds that the mid-day meal scheme is linked with 13%-32% of the improvement in the physical growth for age z-scores in India from 2006 to 2016.   

The paper said that the connection between midday meals and stunting is more robust in the lower socio-economic class. It is likely to come from the quality of those women’s education, fertility, and the use of health services.   

The study further indicates that over one in three children are either stunted or too short for their age, caused due by undernutrition. To prevent stunting, focusing on nutrition for young children have been done. Still, nutritionists raise concern that maternal health and well-being are significant elements to reduce stunting in their offspring.    

It notes that the ways to “improve maternal height and education must be implemented years before those girls and young women become a mother.” The research paper analyses the impacts of a mass feeding programme.   

The government launched the midday meal scheme in 1995 to provide children going to government schools with a free cooked meal containing 450 kcal and attract them to come to schools, so they don’t drop out from schools. However, looking at the statistics of 1999, only 6% of girls aged between 6 years and ten years had benefited from the scheme. With an expansion in budget, and states implementing a Supreme Court order, the numbers had increased by 46% by 2011.   

The study recorded the birth years and socio-economic status of globally representative cohorts of mothers to get an overview of how this scheme reduced stunting in their children.   

The paper has been released at such a time when the scheme has been kept on hold due to the outbreak of coronavirus, and consequently, schools have been shut since March 2020.   

As a proxy, although the government has been providing dry food grains and transferring cash, the impact of food and education on children, especially on girls, would not have the same hot-cooked meals on the school premises. As per the food and education advocates, it would impact girl children because they face more discrimination at home and are prone to drop out of school due to the closures.   

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