The European installation of the World Health Organization (WHO) has created a policy brief to expand Ukraine’s national school meals program in a bid to boost the health of the nation’s children and the economy. The organization says the policy is critical to the country’s future prosperity during war and hardship.

The policy brief advocates for a universal free school meals (UFSM) system where all students at a given school, region or country receive a meal at no cost. The move aims to improve children’s health and academic performance, inadvertently benefiting the economy in the long run.

“WHO commends Ukraine for investing in children’s health and nutrition in the time of war. This proposed universal free school meals policy will bring long-term economic and health benefits for the country and contribute to strengthening the foundation that all children need and deserve,” says Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe.

A recent pilot study showed a rise in diet-related diseases among community residents vulnerable to low nutrition security. The results suggest that combining nutritious no-prep meals and meal kits provides adequate nutrition intervention strategies for pantry clients and could improve food security and dietary quality.

Laying the groundwork

The new policy brief titled “Expanding the National School Meals Program in Ukraine” provides Ukrainian decision-makers with an overview of several effective UFSM systems implemented in different parts of the world, highlighting the strengths and limitations of each model.

Establishing the brief helps Ukraine in its current efforts to safeguard the health of its children because access to quality, nutritious food unlocks their physical and academic potential and helps protect them from noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, obesity and diabetes.

In conjunction with the USFM program, these policy measures help decrease food insecurity in the region and improve financial resources for families. It will secure long-term healthcare savings due to reductions in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, WHO Europe states.

The brief also extends information about the key factors that make the UFSM system sustainable, including the continuity of external funding and valuable insights about underused restaurants. In addition, it pinpoints satellite kitchens and hubs that can reduce the costs of the meals program. The summary allows decision-makers to choose the best options.

Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, extended the funding of a universal free school meals policy for state primary school children in the upcoming academic year (2024/2025), starting in September. This will save families up to £1,000 (US$1,247) per child over the two years, reduce stigma for those who receive meals and improve nutrition and school engagement.

Economic advantages

According to WHO Europe, a UFSM policy will be able to create around 55,000 additional jobs in schools, corresponding farms and businesses that support the production of school meals. The organization’s research found that spin-off benefits for agriculture, education, health and social protection created an estimated US$9 return on every US$1 invested.

“We realized that the idea of feeding children nutritiously in wartime becomes even more difficult to implement, yet even more important. Because our children and teachers demonstrated true heroism, they did not interrupt their studies. It is our desire to support children and teachers, in particular, with food which determines the quality of education,” said Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, during the opening of the first kitchen factory in Bucha, Ukraine, in 2023.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine significantly drove food insecurity globally in 2023. With Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Grain Deal, experts warned that malnutrition would continue to increase, mainly among the world’s most vulnerable populations. Humanitarian organizations stressed that there are sufficient commodities in the global market but that politics hindered the process of delivering aid to populations in need of assistance.

By Inga de Jong

Source: NutritionInsight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *