School meals good, especially for poor children
(24 January 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- School meals can improve physical and mental health of disadvantaged children.
Good nutrition is essential for healthy child development. One way of boosting children's intake is to give them food at school. Cochrane Reviewers looked to see whether school feeding programmes could produce benefits in terms of the children's physical, mental and psychosocial health.
They considered the data from 18 studies, nine of which had been carried out in low income countries and nine in high income countries.
In low income countries, compared to controls, school fed children's attendance increased by 4 to 6 days per year. Children who were fed at school also gained more than controls on maths achievement, and on some cognitive tasks requiring attention, mental flexibility and rapid processing of information.
Children in low income countries who were given meals gained weight faster than controls. In lower income countries, in trials that had been carefully regulated, fed children gained an average of 0.39kg more over 19 months than did controls. Gains of over 0.7 kg in 11.3 months were reported in less regulated trials. In high income countries children fed at school showed some increase in weight gain.
"The data collected so far indicate that disadvantaged children gain in several ways if they are given food at school. It is important to make sure that these meals contain sufficient energy, protein, and essential micronutrients says Lead Review Author Betsy Kristjansson, an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology and Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.
Kristjansson EA et al. School feeding for improving the physical and psychosocial health of disadvantaged elementary school children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 1.
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