By Rebecca Middleton, Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger
Hunger can deeply impact individuals, families, and communities. This is true across the globe, from Mogadishu to right here in Washington, D.C. While the root causes and true depth of hunger may differ widely from place to place, food insecurity prevents societies everywhere from reaching their full potential. There are, however, a number of proven strategies that can drive progress towards food security and wider societal benefits. Many of these strategies succeed at tackling food security issues starting early in life—with our kids. At the Alliance to End Hunger, we constantly hear about responses to hunger in the United States and around the world, and one strategy we hear over and over again is the momentous impact school meals can play.
Many of us are intimately familiar with school meals programs in the United States. The federal government supports school feeding across the country—providing lunch, and increasingly breakfast—to many of our more vulnerable kids. We know the vital importance of these meals. Kids who are not eating enough nutritious food have trouble concentrating in class and are more prone to sickness, which leads to absenteeism. In extreme cases, this lack of nutrition may even interrupt a child’s brain development ultimately leading to suffering classroom performance, poor grades and an exacerbated cycle of intergenerational poverty. There are many organizations, such as Alliance members No Kid Hungry and Feeding America, that recognize the importance of strong, consistent nutrition for children and work closely with USDA and others to support meals for kids outside of school. This work includes promoting summer meal sites and backpack programs as well as strong policy advocacy.
The simple act of feeding children at school in lower income countries can have an even more pronounced impact. In countries where families derive their livelihoods from farming, it can be hard to sacrifice the work a child can provide at a family’s homestead to send them to school. But with the benefit of a meal at school, and one less meal an impoverished family needs to provide, a child can go to school and receive the education that will eventually pay off for his or her family, and community, as a whole. Beyond improving education, school meals also help to improve gender equality by providing families incentive to send their sons anddaughters to school. These multiple benefits of school meals have been recognized by the U.S. government, leading to critical programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. The World Food Program is also highly invested in these effective programs.
Wherever you are in the world, the interconnectedness of food security and education is unavoidable. And on this International School Meals Day, let’s highlight the importance of supporting programs that provide nutritious food to our children, while also encouraging learning. School meals are an obvious investment in all of our futures.