Women who received free meals in primary school have children with improved linear growth: Study
The authors used nationally representative data on mothers and their children spanning 1993 to 2016 to assess whether MDM supports intergenerational improvements in child linear growth.
NEW DELHI: Women who received free meals in primary schools have children with improved linear growth, according to a new study.
India is home to the highest number of undernourished children and the largest school feeding programme in the world, the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme, yet long-term programme benefits on nutrition are unknown, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which conducted the study, said.
The study, titled 'Intergenerational nutrition benefits of India's national school feeding program', found that women who received free meals in primary school have children with improved linear growth, the institute said.
It was published in Nature Communications.
The authors used nationally representative data on mothers and their children spanning 1993 to 2016 to assess whether MDM supports intergenerational improvements in child linear growth, according to the study.
Further, they suggest a potential pathway through which school feeding programmes may have intergenerational effects on child nutrition outcomes, it said.
The study found that investments made in school meals in previous decades were associated with improvements in future child linear growth.
"Our findings suggest that intervening during the primary school years can make important contributions to reducing future child stunting, particularly given the cumulative exposure that is possible through school feeding programs," said study co-author Suman Chakrabarti.
Study results also show that school meals may contribute to education, later fertility decisions, and access to health care, reducing the risk of undernutrition in the next generation.
"School feeding programmes such as India's MDM scheme have the potential for stimulating population-level stunting reduction as they are implemented at scale and target multiple underlying determinants of undernutrition in vulnerable groups," said study co-author Samuel Scott.
Importantly, further research is required to understand whether improving the quality or quantity of meals provided and extending the programme beyond primary school might further enhance its benefits, the study pointed out.