Starving children often benefit from subsidised school lunches, study finds

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Swede study finds it costs about $2.50 more per day per child to feed them at home rather than public schools

Sweden’s leading academic researchers, who studied the cost of feeding children who fall just below the poverty line, said a key barrier to providing food assistance to more children in Canada was school meals.

Canadian-born professors Jacob Asgel and Joshua Mohl from the Laboratory for Poverty Research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have been researching ways to alleviate child hunger in Canada and in some other countries for decades.

These research studies have included comparing the cost of feeding children at home – where meals are often expensive and can cost as much as $50 a day – to feeding them in schools.

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In addition to the research on school meals and the cost of feeding children, Asgel and Mohl recently published a paper examining the impact of food assistance on children and food insecurity.

They found, using data from 17 countries, that when schools provide nutritious school lunches, the children have fewer complaints, more attainment in class and less time spent in special education. They said school meals also led to a positive effect on whether families were able to rent a home in their area.

“One of the key obstacles to implementing the food assistance program is the high cost of school meals,” Asgel said.

“How can we help students access the nutritious meals in school to have better learning outcomes in class? One option would be to provide subsidized school meals in areas where those meals are not available.”

The study looked at changes in the prevalence of food insecurity between 1999-2000 and 2012-13 in 20 countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and United Arab Emirates.

“Our study showed that school food service improves children’s educational outcomes and reduces the spread of the hunger. School meal programs have also led to increased housing opportunities for disadvantaged households,” Asgel said.

He said his study found having subsidized school meals affected the children’s health outcomes.

“The findings indicate that participants’ diet as a result of school meals and food insecurity can often lead to increased illness and poverty.”

Social support from a parent or relative decreased the parents’ ability to provide childcare, although the researchers found children who had food assistance from the government had healthier diets and an improved nutritional profile.

Another important finding was that children who experienced food insecurity are more likely to be on track to receive a higher education than children who did not experience hunger.

“Youngsters who have been affected by hunger and related school disruptions are more likely to have problems in school and less likely to attend class regularly. As a result, their abilities to learn are diminished,” Mohl said.

Canada is ranked 40th on UN’s ranking of nations in terms of child food security, although it has had a federal food assistance program since the mid-1970s.

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