More Than 39 Billion School Meals Missed Since Start Of Pandemic: UN Report

School meals, often the one nutritious daily meal that children get, must be prioritized in school reopening plans

According to a recent UNICEF survey, over 39 billion in-school meals were missed globally during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic due to school closures.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 370 million children in 150 countries have not received school meals, according to a study published on 28 January 2021 by the UNICEF Office of Research and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

India (100), Brazil (48), China (44), South Africa (nine) and Nigeria are the largest beneficiaries (in millions) of school feeding programmes (nine).

The midday meals scheme (MDMS) in India has been shown to reduce calorie deficits in children by 30%.

COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom

A report entitled COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom found that school closures impacted 1.6 billion students in 199 countries worldwide.

Due to the pandemic, which would reverse global progress made on school enrollment, about 24 million schoolchildren are at risk of dropping out of school, the study said.

Overall, in low- and middle-income countries, coverage of critical nutrition services (feeding in schools, micronutrient supplementation, nutrition promotion, etc.) drops by 30 per cent. This also encompasses the recovery services for extreme malnutrition in children, according to the report.

The latest figures from the report indicate that in the first 8,000 days of a child’s life, schools play an important role in the direct provision of health and nutrition services that are essential for their growth.

In the long term, the lack of education caused by school closures will affect children’s health and wellbeing. Data from India and Ghana indicate that food insecurity decreased reading and numeracy ratings as well as short-term memory during childhood.

Pre-pandemic survey data from 68 countries showed that about 50% of children aged 13 to 17 years reported feelings of hunger before COVID-19 struck.

Additional data from 17 countries showed that up to two-thirds of adolescents aged 15-19 were underweight in some countries and more than half of teenage girls were anaemic in South Asia.

Global data is limited to the overall effect of school closures on the nutrition of children.

UN agencies urged policymakers to prioritize reopening schools while ensuring that children’s welfare, food and nutritional needs are met by school-feeding initiatives.

During school closures, the UN World Food Programme has been helping governments to adapt their school meal programs. More than 13 million schoolchildren received school-based funding from the UN World Food Programme in the first nine months of 2020, compared to 17.3 million the previous year.

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