The Research Consortium is a global, multi-sectoral partnership of academic, scientific and technical institutions, and individuals, that aims to promote quality research on the health, nutrition, well-being, education and development of school-age children and adolescents. The Consortium was created to support the objectives of the School Meals Coalition, an initiative led by a group of member states and partners to ensure that every child has the opportunity to receive a healthy, nutritious meal in school by 2030.
Investment in the first 1,000 days of life remains a priority for the health sector, but there is growing recognition of the need to invest in the next 7,000 days of child development (the school-age years) to sustain the earlier gains achieved. The Research Consortium is facilitating collaboration between academic, research and development partners to fill the global knowledge gap in school health and nutrition, and build an evidence base to guide policymakers and programme implementers.
Investment in health has never been as important for education as it is today. At the beginning of 2020, national school feeding programmes around the world delivered school meals to 388 million children each day in 161 countries, feeding more children than at any time in human history. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a decade of global progress in school nutrition programmes to a halt and resulted in a major education crisis, excluding many children from their only reliable meal of the day.
This situation has highlighted the need for school health and nutrition programmes that are more inclusive, efficient, and resilient to ensure the health and well-being of school children, while providing a safety net, creating human capital, supporting national growth and promoting economic development.
In this context, over 110 member states, UN agencies, think tanks, and NGOs, launched the international School Meals Coalition at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit to help countries around the world re-establish, increase, and improve school health and nutrition programmes.
The Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition was established in May 2021, with initial financing from WFP and Dubai Cares, at the request of the member states of the School Meals Coalition to ensure that programming is evidence-based. The Research Consortium, whose Secretariat is hosted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is a global, multi-sectoral partnership of academic, scientific, and technical institutions and individuals, that aims to promote quality research on school health and nutrition and provide guidance on effective policymaking in this area.
The Research Consortium is guided by these four core principles:
As part of its 10-year strategy plan, together with its partners, the Research Consortium aims to:
- Provide evidence on the effectiveness of school feeding programmes for learning, social and physical outcomes of children and youth across the world to make the case for investment in school-based health and nutrition programmes; and
- Provide policymakers with programmatic guidance on the optimal policies to be implemented with regard to health, nutrition and education.
The Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition was launched in May 2021 as the first initiative developed to support the objectives of the School Meals Coalition. The launch marked the start of a 10-year collaboration between academic, research and development partners to build an evidence base to inform decision-making on school health and nutrition.
The work of the Research Consortium is facilitated by a Secretariat hosted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and reports to the member states of the School Meals Coalition. This structure ensures independence of research generated through the Consortium.
The Consortium functions through a global network of Communities of Practice, which cover four main areas: (i) Impact & Evidence; (ii) Analytics & Metrics; (iii) Good Examples; and (iv) Nutrition Measurement.
The Communities of Practice are bolstered by cross-cutting themes to ensure excellence and relevance to a broad audience. These include:
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion of all stakeholders, with a particular emphasis on geographic diversity;
- Ensuring sustainable financing by estimating the true cost of programs, supporting countries to secure external financing if necessary, and increasing domestic financing for national programmes if feasible; and
- Cultivating talent among students and early career researchers to professionalise school feeding.
The success of the Consortium relies on equitable research partnerships and the support of a broad range of public, private, and multilateral partners who share a commitment to improving child development, education and wellbeing. The Consortium, together with the four Communities of Practice, is engaging with a wide network of actors around the world, including academics and early career researchers, international finance institutions, donors, governments, and implementing partners.
The Research Consortium is facilitating collaboration between leading academic institutions, national governments, UN bodies and civil society to build independent evidence to inform effective policymaking on school health and nutrition. The Consortium consists of Communities of Practice, which cover four main areas: (i) Impact & Evidence; (ii) Analytics & Metrics; (iii) Good Examples; and (iv) Nutrition Measurement.
Communities of Practice - Strategic focus areas
- Impact & Evidence
This Community of Practice (CoP) is updating a Cochrane/Campbell systematic review to assess the impact of school health and nutrition in the key education metrics that are used to select “smart buys” for the sector.
The Impact & Evidence CoP is a voluntary, network of researchers and practitioners undertaking research related to school health and nutrition. Its objectives are the following:
- To provide assurance, in an advisory capacity only, that will maximise the quality and relevance of the research generated by the Cochrane Review.
- To share knowledge and/or solutions with other members who are engaged in mission-critical, strategic research that supports evidence-based decision-making for school health and nutrition programmes.
- To provide the opportunity for stakeholders, who may not otherwise be in contact with each other, to stimulate learning and promote collaboration in an inclusive space, for example through establishing north-south and south-south partnerships.
The CoP will contribute to the relevance, impartiality and credibility of the research/evaluations by bringing together a range of viewpoints and ensuring a transparent process. It held its inaugural meeting in March 2021.
Forthcoming, anticipated end 2022
Chair: Elizabeth Kristjansson, email@example.com
Coordinator: Niamh O’Grady, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Analytics & Metrics
The Analytics & Metrics Community of Practice (CoP) has been established to ensure that cross-sectoral evidence in the area of school health and nutrition is used effectively by both practitioners and policymakers. This CoP will support data collection, analysis, and the publication of results, initially focusing on:
- Quantifying benefits and returns of school health interventions in terms of Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling (LAYS), starting with school meal programmes.
- Conducting economic evaluation assessments of the value for money, return on investment and equity and gender impact of school health interventions, with country-level analysis underway in six countries in Africa. This effort is working through the economic communities in the region (East African Community, Economic Community of West African States, and the Southern African Development Community) to establish a platform for economists across the region to lead similar analyses going forward.
The Analytics & Metrics CoP is a voluntary network of researchers and practitioners undertaking research and other projects related to school health and nutrition. Its objectives are the following:
- To provide assurance, in an advisory capacity only, that will maximise the quality and relevance of the research generated by its participants.
- To share data, knowledge and solutions with other participants who are engaged in mission-critical, strategic research that supports evidence-based decision-making for school health and nutrition programmes.
- To provide the opportunity for stakeholders, who may not otherwise be in contact with each other, to stimulate learning and promote collaboration between participants in an inclusive space, for example through establishing north-south and south-south partnerships, and facilitating networking between interested parties.
- To mobilise and sub-grant resources both for primary and secondary research in school health.
The Analytics & Metrics CoP will contribute to the relevance, impartiality and credibility of the research by bringing together a range of viewpoints and ensuring a transparent process.
The CoP invites interested participants to contact us to learn more on the research or how to contribute to this initiative.
Verguet S, Limasalle P, Chakrabarti A, Husain A, Burbano C, Drake L, Bundy DAP. The broader economic value of school feeding programs in low- and middle-income countries: estimating the multi-sectoral returns to public health, human capital, social protection and the local economy. Frontiers in Public Health 2020; 8:587048.
Noam Angrist, email@example.com
Stéphane Verguet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Henriette Dewit, email@example.com
- Good Examples
School meal programs are among the most ubiquitous social programming offered worldwide, however, there is little documentation as to how national programmes are organised, financed, and monitored.
The Good Examples Community of Practice (CoP) aims to assess and showcase the enabling factors in the design, implementation, and financing of large-scale and long-standing national school meal programmes, through the following activities:
- Coordinating with government partners to establish the enabling environment and operational structures that facilitate robust national school health programs, based on lessons learned from both long-established programs and those reaching the highest number of children.
- Organising the development of these case studies to build an evidence base on service delivery methodology and to facilitate more effective implementation of interventions targeted to school-age children and adolescents. There is particular interest in consolidating learnings from long established programmes, particularly among countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as from countries with the largest programmes such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
- Considering the impact, challenges and lessons learnt from service delivery disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and how governments can better design crisis-resilient school meal programmes.
This CoP is in development and is anticipated to be formally launched in 2022.
Chair: Sylvie Avallone, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nutrition measurement
Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development: Knowledge Indicating Dietary Sufficiency: The BOND-KIDS Project Community of Practice (CoP)
The Nutrition Measurement CoP, led by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition, and the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is using the Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development (BOND) platform to establish a common framework of nutritional indicators to monitor the nutritional status of school age children and adolescents. The framework will help develop, strengthen and evaluate efforts to meet nutritional needs and optimise outcomes.
This CoP comprises four Thematic Working Groups focusing on the following areas:
- Nutrition and biology/function;
- Factors in the external environment affecting nutrition of children and adolescents;
- Assessment of nutritional status and function; and
- Translational and implementation issues to be considered to support program development and evaluation
A Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) consisting of representatives of US Government agencies (USDA, CDC, USAID, NIH), UN agencies (WHO, UNICEF, WFP, FAO, UN Nutrition), and civil society has been constituted to provide organisational feedback and content oversight.
This effort will be carried out in phases, with the first phase to include the identification of what is known and where the gaps exist. This process will inform a detailed research agenda.
Internal Working Group Chair: Connie Weaver, email@example.com
Coordinator: Constantina Papoutsakis, firstname.lastname@example.org
External Working Group Chair: Maureen Black, email@example.com
Coordinator: Elizabeth Jimenez, firstname.lastname@example.org
Assessment Working Group Chair: Saurabh Mehta, email@example.com
Coordinator: Gabriela Proano, firstname.lastname@example.org
Translation and Implementation Working Group Chairs:
Christina Economos, email@example.com
Donald Bundy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Coordinator: Mary Rozga, email@example.com
- June 2022
Good Food For All - The Bean Challenge, OmVed Gardens, London, 13th-14th June 2022
Representatives from the Research Consortium will be attending an advocacy event held by Good Food For All on increasing beans in school food menus.
School Health & Nutrition: What does the evidence tell us? - Impact & Evidence COP, 23rd June 2022
Join the Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition in an exciting session led by our Impact & Evidence Community of Practice (COP), who will be sharing recent progress on their Cochrane Collaboration Systematic Review of School Meals and School Health.
Date: Thursday 23 June 2022
Time: 13.00-14.00 BST
Joining link: https://lshtm.zoom.us/j/99807223623
Past events (2022)
- January 2022
Strengthening evidence on the benefits of school health and nutrition interventions to inform policy action and investment priorities, LSHTM Seminar organised by the School-Based Interventions Interest Group, 26th January
LSHTM staff and collaborators participated in this seminar introducing the School Meals Coalition, the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition, and the work of the Consortium's Communities of Practice. Three key areas of research were explored during the seminar: (i) value-for-money of school meals; (ii) the effect of school food on learning-adjusted years of schooling; and (iii) the current evidence and impact of school health interventions.
Watch the recording
Public Meeting hosted by the Coalition for Health School Food, Canada, 27th January
Professor Bundy presented on behalf of the Research Consortium and provided an update on global evidence for school food programmes.
Watch the recording
- February 2022
OECD Webinar: How to Make Better Policies for School Meals, 10th February
Following on from the Making Better Policies for Food Systems report the OECD’s Trade and Agriculture Directorate is now focusing on how to overcome evidence gaps in food systems to support policy makers around the world develop better policies for food systems. School meal programmes are included as part of a deep dive on food assistance programmes in OECD countries. As a knowledge partner to the UNFSS process the OECD has convened a webinar to discuss school meal programmes within OECD states. Professor Bundy presented on the launch of the School Meals Coalition, the Research Consortium, and the efforts of the Good Examples Community of Practice to document lessons learned from long-standing national school meal programs.
Watch the recording
Global Initiative for Children’s Surgery, US, 20th February
Professor Bundy presented to a global audience of surgeons on the opportunities for intervention within the first 8,000 days of life, with an emphasis on preventable disability among children and adolescents. Professor Bundy will also provide a forward look to the fourth edition of the Disease Control Priorities and the vision to include an emphasis on the life-course within this publication.
University of Oxford International Health & Tropical Medicine - Presentation to MSc students on multi-sectoral benefits of school meals programmes and the role of the School Meals Coalition, 23rd February
Professor Bundy presented to the University of Oxford International Health & Tropical Medicine MSc students on the multi-sector benefits of school meals programmes and the role of the School Meals Coalition with supporting governments to re-establish and scale school meal programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- March 2022
Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development – Knowledge Indicating Dietary Sufficiency (BOND-KIDS) workshops; 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th March
BOND-KIDS is a global partnership, led by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD/NIH), the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition, USDA-Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA/FAS) and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), that aims to describe factors affecting health and nutrition in school-aged children and to guide assessment of nutrition programs. A series of public workshops took place throughout March to discuss the research of the four working groups.
Watch all four event recordings below:
- Workshop 1 – Nutrition and Biology – Friday 4 March
- Workshop 2 – Environment – Friday 11 March
- Workshop 3 – Assessment – Friday 18 March
- Workshop 4 – Translation and Implementation – Friday 25 March
LSHTM Environmental Health Group Seminar, 9th March
LSHTM's Environmental Health Group hosted a seminar featuring three presentations on school-based WASH studies, followed by a presentation on the work of the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition.
Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetics Society 2nd International Conference in Karachi, 10th-13th March
The Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and the Nutrition Society are hosting a workshop focusing on investing in the next 8,000 days, as part of the Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetics Society 2nd International Conference in Karachi.
Transitioning to a sustainable food system and delivering on the SDGs – The potential of school meals, EURGAGRI/CIRAD conference, 21st March
The European Agricultural Research Initiative (EURAGRI) and CIRAD (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement) are co-hosting a conference bringing together European academics and stakeholders to discuss the benefits of school feeding programmes for children, as well as for societies and local economies. Professor Bundy will provide an update on the global picture of school feeding and present the roles of the School Meals Coalition and Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition in this context.
- April 2022
Regional School Feeding Forum, Barranquilla, Colombia, 5th-7th April
Representatives from the Research Consortium and School Meals Coalition took part in a high-level panel alongside ECLAC, IFPRI and INSP (the Mexican National Institute of public health) to discuss school feeding as a game changer for human capital development.
Sustainable School Food: Global Challenges, Local Solutions, Barcelona, 28th April
Representatives from the Research Consortium presented at the virtual Sustainable School Food conference, hosted by Catalan NGO Fundesplai. The conference explored different countries and realities in order to see how they are reacting to shared challenges regarding school food programmes: minimising waste, reducing the consumption of animal proteins and increasing the consumption of fresh and local foods.
- May 2022
Bergen Centre for Ethics and Priority Setting (BCEPS) meeting in Bergen, 2nd-4th May 2022
The Research Consortium team took part in the BCEPS meeting to discuss collaboration and ways forward to promote fair and efficient priority setting in national health systems.
National Consultation on School Meals Programme, Pakistan, 10th May 2022
Professor Bundy, Director of the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition, delivered the keynote speech at the National Consultation on School Meals Programme, convened by the Government of Pakistan with support from WFP. He discussed the multi-benefits of school meals programmes for overall child health and nutrition, education, wellbeing, and economic development.
Measuring Success: What makes an effective school feeding programme? - Analytics & Metrics COP, 30th May 2022
The Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition hosted its first seminar with its Analytics & Metrics Community of Practice (COP) on the effective measurement of school health and nutrition programmes globally.
Representatives from the Ethiopian and Malawi governments, the African Union, the World Food Programme, Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provided insights on the most meaningful evidence and metrics for measuring the impact of school meals around the world.
- July 2021
Seventh International Conference on Poverty Reduction and Child Development, Beijing (Government of China and China Development Research Foundation) - 24th July
The conference established the factors that allowed China to declare the End of Absolute Poverty in December 2020. Professor Bundy spoke on a panel focused on child nutrition and food safety under the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the outcome of the 100 year “Compulsory Education Students Nutrition Programme”.
Food Systems Pre-Summit, Rome (UN Food agencies; planning for the UN Food Systems Summit, New York City, September) - 26th - 28th July
The UN World Food Programme convened governments, agencies, and academia to solidify commitments for the School Meals Coalition, which was launched at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021.
Global Education Summit, hybrid virtual/in-person conference - 28th - 29th July
The Global Partnership for Education hosted a virtual summit featuring 70 presentations as part of the Financing GPE 2021-2025 campaign.
- August 2021
Annual Conference on Ensuring Food and Nutrition Security, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai: from the originators of the Green Revolution - 9th August
Professor Bundy presented the keynote on nutrition security policies that support women and children.
- September 2021
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO Health Network Brunch): School as a platform for sexual and reproductive health and rights interventions - 2nd September
At the invitation of the FCDO, Professors Donald Bundy and Aoife Doyle presented on the role of health/gender policies to promote adolescent girls’ retention in secondary schools.
UN Food Systems Summit, New York City, 23rd September
The UN Secretary-General convened the 2021 Food Systems Summit with the aim of maximizing the co-benefits of a food systems approach across the entire 2030 Agenda and meeting the challenges of climate change. The School Meals Coalition was launched alongside the Summit.
- October 2021
LACA, Birmingham, the annual meeting of the UK-wide professional body representing school nutrition services; 550 organisations including local authorities, schools, academies, institutions and the private sector - 13th October
Professor Bundy gave the keynote presentation on the global impact of school meal service interruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
World Food Day - 16th October
In celebration of World Food Day, the World Food Programme UK Office, together with the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and the Chefs’ Manifesto, hosted an event to develop and strengthen the network of school feeding stakeholders in the UK.
All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food Meeting, House of Commons, London - 21st October
Professor Bundy provided an update on the structure, 10-year agenda and roles of the Global Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition.
Sowing the Seeds of a Movement, UK, 26th October
The World Food Programme, OmVed Gardens, and the Research Consortium on School Health and Nutrition hosted a diverse group of individuals working in the area of school food in the UK to exchange experiences and lessons learned.
- November 2021
UK National School Meals Week 2021, 8th-12th November
OmVed Gardens, the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition, and the World Food Programme, UK jointly authored an opinion piece in celebration of the UK National School Meals Week, entitled School Food: What Have we Learned from the UK’s 115 Years of Experience.
Lecture series on nutrition organised by World Food Programme LAC Region and Economic Policy Research Institute, Panama, 11th November
Professor Bundy lectured on school meals, their reach, and impact across Latin America as part of a professional development training course designed for the World Food Programme LAC Region staff.
Universal Provision of Free School Meals, Scotland, 17th November
Scotland has committed to extend universal provision of free school meals to all children in primary schools. The Scottish Poverty and Inequity Research Unit convened global school meal experts to reflect on early progress in delivering this in Scotland and we learn from wider work to extend school meal provision across the globe. Professor Bundy presented an overview of international work to on the universal provision of school meals. The full recording can be accessed here.
French School Feeding Network, France, 18th November
The French School Feeding Network invited researchers to present their research experience on school feeding to its network members, with a focus on “Ma cantine autrement” in Montpellier and "Cantine égalité" in Paris and its ramifications in Madagascar and India. Researchers discussed the success factors, barriers, and impacts of school catering projects.
Bilateral Meetings with UN Agencies, Italy, 22nd-26th November
The Secretariat of the Consortium organised bilateral meetings with Rome-based UN agencies, including the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agriculture Development, and with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Coalition for Healthy School Food, Canada, 24th November
Professor Bundy joined a panel focused on big picture insights for implementing a school food programme in Canada. His intervention provided a global lens to school meal programs.
Nutrition During the Next 7,000 Days of Life: Middle Childhood and Adolescence, Side Event of the Nutrition for Growth Summit, Japan, 29th November
This event brought together the government of Finland, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to discuss how practitioners can address the nutritional needs of school-age children and adolescents.
- December 2021
Seminar in Nutrition and Global Health. Hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, 6th December
Professor Bundy presented how the covid pandemic has changed how countries care for the world’s schoolchildren, and how the pandemic has prompted a rethinking of the “next 7000 days” in a young person’s life. Watch his presentation here.
Nutrition for Growth Summit, Japan, 7th-8th December
The flagship N4G Summit was hosted by the Government of Japan in December 7-8, 2021. The event convened a cross-section of stakeholders to announce final financial and policy commitments and chart the path toward 2030 with concrete recommendations to the global community.
RewirED Summit, United Arab Emirates, 12th-14th December
RewirED – a global platform to rewire education for a prosperous and sustainable future –is organized by Dubai Cares, in partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai and in close coordination with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. On 14 December, Professor Bundy presented on the Research Consortium at a high-level investor’s roundtable and also moderated a session on financing approaches non-state actors utilize to finance school health and nutrition interventions. Watch the videos here and here.
10th Anniversary of the Nutrition Improvement Plan, hosted by the China Development Research Foundation, China, 18th December
The theme of this conference was Investing in Child Nutrition for Healthy Future with a focus on the achievement of China’s Nutrition Improvement Plan for Rural Students in Compulsory Education. Professor Bundy presented as part of the Child Nutrition and Rural Vitalisation plenary.
Virtual launch of the Global School Health and Research Consortium - 27th May
Read the annotated agenda of the launch of the global Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition
Read the research priorities identified at the symposium of the global Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition
Full recordings of the Launch and Symposium:
Spotlight on Dayana Bray and Christina Adane
Thursday 10 March 2022
On International School Meals Day, Dayana Bray and Christina Adane share insights on why we should celebrate school meals and how young people can drive action towards more equitable school food systems of the future.
Dayana Bray is a dietitian based in the US, after moving from Colombia where she was born and raised. Her work focuses in particular on child food insecurity and she has an operational background in school nutrition programmes at the local, state and national level. She is currently an MPH Candidate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and is developing research expertise in school health and nutrition.
Christina Adane, originally from Ethiopia and currently living in London, is a campaigner promoting equity in the UK food system and former Co-Chair of Bite Back 2030’s Youth Board. She has been a leading voice in the campaign for the provision of free school meals in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
What issues are you most interested in or passionate about when it comes to school meals, and how did you develop an interest in this area?
Christina: As a young person, I had first-hand experience of being on free school meals. I also grew up in a food desert, although I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago. I felt angry at the injustices many young people face when it comes to food security and issues relating to school meals, for example poor nutrition quality or some children who are eligible for free school meals receiving less than their daily £2.30 allowance, which is the amount schools in the UK are allocated per meal under the current free school meals policy.
There was also a lot of stigma around free school meals when I was growing up. Even the word “free” has so many connotations. As I matured, I realised that receiving school meals isn't something to be ashamed about and that this is a systemic issue, not an individual one.
So personal experience, combined with the knowledge of how these issues are affecting so many young people, was what led me to be super passionate about school meals.
I’m hopeful my campaign and Marcus Rashford’s campaign, which have brought this issue to the forefront and are encouraging young people to speak up, will bring about positive change.
Dayana: Similarly, my personal experience got me interested in school meals and nutrition. I was born in Colombia and growing up in a LMIC (Low and Middle Income Country) and seeing food insecurity everywhere in daily life has made fighting against hunger something really personal to me. Then I came to the US and saw first-hand the impact that school meals programmes can have, not only on the wellbeing of the individual child, but also on the community as a whole.
I’m especially interested in the return on investment from school meal programmes and gaining understanding of what strategies make school food systems more efficient, particularly in reaching those who are most in need.
It’s interesting to hear Christina talk about the stigma of getting free school meals. When I first came to the US, I had free meals, but coming from a country where I was not receiving a school meal, I was excited to get it and enjoyed the food, even if it was a greasy burger!
But as Christina said, I think it is important to change perceptions of free school meals, because it’s children from disadvantaged backgrounds who can benefit most.
The theme of international school meals day on 10th March is “Celebrating School Meals”. What aspects of school meals do you think should be celebrated and what could be improved?
Christina: There are some incredible schools and communities that are doing it right. In the UK, for example, Chefs In Schools is training chefs to produce top notch school meals that are nutritious. Young people are also engaged in the process, which is really cool. Another thing we should celebrate but that’s often missing with school meals is the community around food. It’s important that young people connect with their food, understand where it comes from, and value local produce, especially with climate issues affecting our food systems. A school meal is a lot more than just a plate of food at lunchtime.
Dayana: I think there's a lot of things that can be celebrated about school meals. School meals provide more than a meal - they impact not only the child, but also local economies by creating jobs. They provide a safety net for students and support their development, physically, mentally and academically. As for what could be improved, most people would agree that universal free education is a right but in many cases, we’re failing to provide students with the nutrition they need to make the most of that education and realise their full potential. All students, from whatever background, living in any country, should have access to healthy school meals.
How do you think young people can be meaningfully integrated into decision-making on school food policy?
Christina: Bite Back has a programme called school food champions that engages with around 80 schools across the UK. Young people lead projects to improve food systems in their schools and local communities. Involving young people in decision making processes on school food like this is really important. Bite Back is an example of how young people can speak up about food systems and influence positive change.
Dayana: Young people can be powerful advocates for better school meals programmes and improving access in their communities. Another thing young people can do is work in this space and influence change from within. Wanting to make a difference, that’s what motivated me to get involved.
What do you think is the role of scientific research in improving school meals programmes?
Christina: I think scientific research is an integral part. We can advocate for change, but we need evidence to back up our campaigns and help find solutions to complex problems. A campaign is always most effective when there's a report or new, credible evidence behind it.
Dayana: I think the scientific community plays a pivotal role. We’ve talked about the need for more research into determining best strategies, return on investment, and multi-sectoral benefits. Scientific research helps us understand the impact school meals have not just on the individual, but also the community and the local food system.
I’ve also been working on food fortification recently and think this is an area that academia can really contribute to. Better evidence drives innovation and can help us find ways to ensure foods provide all the micronutrients that children need.
What is your vision of school food systems of the future?
Christina: Universal free school meals that are nutritious and a system where there’s a community around eating and we value eating together. My vision is people reconnecting with food and understanding the importance of the food journey. I also think we need to address the stigmatisation of free school meals. Changing “free” to school food premium could be a good start. School should be a safe space where kids feel comfortable, whatever socio-economic background they come from.
Dayana: Very similar to Christina. My vision for school food systems is offering universal free school meals – a sustainable system that will benefit whole communities and provide students with the nutrition they need to develop and learn.
Governments across Africa are rebuilding home-grown school feeding (HGSF) programs to help their recovery from the pandemic
Tuesday 1 March 2022
On the 7th African Day of School Feeding, Boitshepo Bibi Giyose (Senior Advisor, Food and Nutrition Security, AUDA-NEPAD), Carmen Burbano de Lara (Director, School Feeding Division, WFP), and Donald A.P. Bundy (Director, Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition) highlight efforts made by African countries to restore school meals programmes after disruptions caused by COVID-19 and advance the HGSF agenda. Read the article.
Spotlight on Gilbert Ngwaneh Miki
Tuesday 1 March 2022
On the 7th African Day of School Feeding, Gilbert Ngwaneh Miki, PhD Research Fellow at the University of Reading, tells us how he developed a passion for school health and nutrition and shares insights from his research and experience in Home-Grown School Feeding.
Gilbert Ngwaneh Miki is an early career researcher with a passion for school health and nutrition, especially school feeding programmes. He has over ten years’ experience working for various international development agencies and is currently a PhD Research Fellow (International and Rural Development) at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, UK. Gilbert is a 2012 Chevening Scholar, Pioneer HALI Network/Open Dreams PhD Scholar and 2019 Commonwealth PhD Scholar.
How did you develop an interest in school health and nutrition and what aspects are you most passionate about?
My interest in school health and nutrition stems from my childhood experiences, growing up in a community where school feeding programmes were absent, and children and families were left to fend for themselves. Children often had to battle hunger while trying to learn.
Today, national governments are really prioritising school meals, especially in the Global South, but many vulnerable children still don’t have access to school meals. Still now, I see children confronting what I experienced as a child and this has made me want to contribute to improving the situation.
It was during my time working as Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program in Cameroon that my passion for school health and nutrition increased and the experience made me want to develop research expertise in this field.
I’m particularly interested in understanding and shaping different school feeding models, which was part of the focus of my research in Malawi, as well as helping national governments transition from donor-driven/aid models to Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programmes.
Many African countries are prioritising school meals programmes, with a particular emphasis on expanding Home-Grown School Feeding. Could you tell us a bit about your research and activities in this area? From your experience, are there stories/compelling evidence that illustrate benefits of HGSF?
Many African countries are prioritising this model because of the multifaceted benefits it brings. From a social protection perspective, HGSF provides a safety net for children and their families and has impact beyond the school environment, including boosting agricultural production and local economies.
It’s worth noting that before the global Sustainable Development Goals came into the picture, most African countries committed to the Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to make primary education free. It wasn’t just about making education free for all, but also ensuring the effectiveness of that agenda. African governments are now seeing the need not only to enroll children in schools, but also help keep them in school and improve learning outcomes.
From my practical experience implementing school feeding programmes in Cameroon, it was clear that there was a marked difference between control schools and schools where the programmes were in place, in terms of attendance and performance. Children receiving school meals performed better, showing how learning can be improved through efficient programming. The programmes particularly benefitted girls as take-home rations were given as incentives to stay in school and to help reduce household food insecurity.
Regarding HGSF, it’s important to highlight the agricultural context. I’ve been exploring how HGSF programmes help contribute to poverty reduction, especially among smallholder farmers.
My findings from work in Malawi showed that HGSF programmes support smallholder farmers’ livelihoods by providing additional income and a stable market for local produce, as well as reducing the food insecurity of the farmers themselves.
HGSF programmes also give farmers incentive to diversify crops. In Malawi, when you talked about food prior to these programmes being implemented, everybody thought of maize (Nsima in the local language), but HGSF has highlighted the need for dietary diversity. There are now standards in place to ensure that children have access to nutritious school meals that include six food groups. Nutrition education is a key component of effective programmes and the benefits can also be seen at the level of households.
The African Union has designated 2022 “The Year of Nutrition”, with the aim of strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security to accelerate human, social and economic development. How do you think school meals programmes can help countries to achieve these objectives?
I think the contribution of school meals programmes to human capital development is really important to highlight. There’s been a lot of interest in investing in the first 1,000 days of life, but the next 7,000 days is also critical for children’s development and learning.
Investing in school health and nutrition is a way of securing a more prosperous future for African countries. A recent publication by Dr. Lesley Drake and others highlighted that Africa's Human Capital Index score puts the region at 40% of its potential and that Africa's GDP could be 2.5 times higher if the benchmarks for health and education were achieved.
National governments recognise this and now need to commit the required resources, build capacity and harness collaborations to implement school meals programmes that will accelerate human, social and economic development across the continent.
What do you think is the role of academic research in improving the quality and reach of school meals programmes in Africa and globally?
According to the WFP State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 report, even before COVID-19 caused disruption to school meals programmes around the world, 73 million schoolchildren in 60 countries were living in extreme poverty and did not have access to school meals. Over 62 million of these vulnerable children live in Africa.
Academic research can help provide governments and practitioners with the evidence they need to implement effective programmes and measure impact. We also need key indicators to measure the nutritional status of school-age children and adolescents, something that I know the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and partners are focusing on.
Research also helps policymakers understand the cost implications. Many African governments are keen to engage and make school meals programmes universal, but the reality of financing and implementing them can be a challenge.
Recent estimates suggest that the overall financial requirement of school feeding globally is US$ 4.7 billion, increasing to US$ 5.8 billion annually if other essential school health interventions are included. This is quite a significant amount, so we need research to help governments implement the most cost-effective models and strategies.
I also think academic research can help us understand the concept of the “local”. School feeding programmes need to take into consideration local needs and contexts, especially as food is so intimately linked with culture.
What are your plans for future research and activities to support school meals programmes?
My focus now is on developing my research expertise in school health and nutrition. I’m interested in the work of the WFP Centre of Excellence in Africa and plan to reach out to see how I can contribute through my research and provide policy guidance. I’m also keen to support the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition by joining one of the global Communities of Practice.
I’m excited about the momentum building around school meals programmes in Africa and globally and looking forward to playing an active role in the development of this agenda, especially in the Global South.
 This innovative approach links school feeding programmes with local smallholder farmers to provide schoolchildren with food that is safe, diverse, nutritious, and above all local.
School food - what have we learnt from the UK’s 115 years of experience?
Wednesday 10 November 2021
During National School Meals Week 2021, Karen Pagarani from OmVed Gardens, Donald Bundy from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Elisabeth Faure from the World Food Programme looked back at the origins of the UK's school meal system, lessons learnt over the last century and the global effort to ensure equitable and well-balanced school meal systems. Read the article.