Free school lunches should be expanded – researcher


An investment analysis shows the government should continue funding the free school lunches programme, a University of Auckland researcher says.

Supporters say free school lunches boost attendance, attention and help feed children who can go hungry when cupboards are bare. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Public Health Communication Centre used investment analysis to look at the expected outputs of the Ministry of Education- provided Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches programme to how well it was completing its goals.

Associate Minister of Education David Seymour recently announced plans to review funding of , saying 10,000 lunches were being wasted each day. The programme is funded to feed more than 230,000 pupils until the end of the year, at a cost of about $325 million, but Seymour said funding could be cut by up to half.

Educators and child advocates have vocally opposed reducing funding, saying the healthy food helps reduce truancy, supports concentration in the classroom, and feeds hungry children when they sometimes miss out at home.

The University of Auckland study looked at 21 outputs measured across the programme, with 16 of those being rated has done “excellent” or “good.”

These included reducing the financial burden of food on disadvantaged households, alleviating hunger at school and promoting healthy eating.

The one element it did poor at was “certainty of continuity of the programme”, due to the funding for it currently not going beyond December this year.

Professor Boyd Swinburn told RNZ that with the economic credentials coming out of the programme the government could not pull out of it without heavily impacting childrens’ education and health.

“What I would like to see is that the government take these economic credentials and look at ways the programme can be expanded to reach more schools.”

Swinburn said schools currently running the programme have “no idea whether its going to continue into the future.”

“If the programme was going to continue then that would give them much more confidence to be able to get better systems in place, become more efficient, find other supply chains for local foods, train up more staff and so on, but the incentive is just not there at the moment because of the uncertainty.”

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