healthy nations start with healthy children

Lessons from GFN food banks

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Food banks can help end hunger

Ending child hunger and malnutrition is a moral imperative and a necessity to achieve shared prosperity and stability for all nations. Forty-one percent of children under the age of 15 (605 million people) worldwide are at risk of hunger. The effect of moderate to severe food insecurity can cause debilitating or sometimes irreversible damage to the child’s physical and cognitive development. It not only threatens a child’s future but also harms families, communities, and nations. The World Bank estimates the economic costs of undernutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth, range between 2 and 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average. 

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Protecting children not just in the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to a child’s second birthday) but in the first 8,000 days (throughout their school-age years) is critical to making progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ending hunger by 2030, which underlies progress on other SDGs. Food banks’ distinctive model is ideally suited to help in the fight against child hunger. Food banks divert nutritious foods that would otherwise be wasted to feed undernourished people in the communities in which they operate. Their local, multisector approach fills the gaps and extends the impact of government social safety net programs, which are the first line of defense.

School-based feeding programs are among the most cost-effective means of addressing child hunger throughout the school-age years, helping to reduce poverty, improve educational outcomes, and strengthen poor communities. Many food banks are already operating targeted child hunger programs, including school feeding. However, more data and support are needed to identify the challenges and opportunities of implementing and scaling child hunger programs through food banks.

The GFN Child Hunger Program Survey

To this end, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) surveyed food banks and national networks in 30 countries from September to December 2019 on child hunger programs. This survey, the first of its kind, shines a light on the feeding programs for children that exist among food banks in the GFN network.

As part of their regular activities, the food banks that responded to the survey served an estimated 3.49 million school-age children (3 to 18 years old) in 2019. In addition, of the 80 survey respondents, 41 food banks in 18 countries report implementing targeted programs for school-age children in 2019, with food banks in seven more countries planning to implement a feeding program for school-age children in 2020. However, it is yet to be determined how the effects of COVID-19 will impact programmatic decisions.

The targeted programs implemented include:

cereal
School breakfast programs
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BackPack programs or weekend take-home rations
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School lunch programs
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Summer or holiday food programs
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Food and nutrition education programs

Some programs provide health and hygiene education, deworming, psychosocial support, and nutritional monitoring in addition to food.

While food banks are well positioned to address child hunger and would like to continue or expand their programs, 74 percent of food banks report funding as a barrier. More than half (54 percent) of food banks report specific food procurement as an obstacle to establishing child feeding programs. 

Targeted approaches to the food security needs of mothers and children can profoundly impact society—breaking the cycle of poverty, building human capital, and driving economic development for generations to come.

Call to action

There is an urgent need to act now—by government, the private sector, and civil society. An estimated 73 million vulnerable children are not being reached with food at school, and one in five school-age children—258 million—was not attending school in 2016. Targeted approaches to the food security needs of mothers and children can profoundly impact society—breaking the cycle of poverty in communities, reducing healthcare costs, closing the gender gap, building human capital, and driving economic development—for generations to come. 

Strengthen government social support systems through school meals

The public and private sectors should make critical investments in school-based feeding programs as a means of promoting a society’s educational, employment, and economic success. Many models for successful school-based programs exist and, when scaled, the potential to quickly and efficiently reach vulnerable children is huge.

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Strengthen government social support systems through school meals

The public and private sectors should make critical investments in school-based feeding programs as a means of promoting a society’s educational, employment, and economic success. Many models for successful school-based programs exist and, when scaled, the potential to quickly and efficiently reach vulnerable children is huge.

Strengthen the role of food banks and other private-sector actors

In developing or transitioning market countries, food banks can support the ongoing development of civil society and food aid to vulnerable populations and can help secure public investments in social protection, health, education, and economic development. Food banking—with its accompanying partnership with government and industry—provides a model for preventing localized increases in hunger and serves as a catalyst for longer-term development.

Governments and food and beverage companies, including manufacturers and retailers, should remove obstacles to donating healthy surplus food to food banks. Governments should also foster policies that encourage food donations to engage the private sector in supporting government programs and investing in school meals.

The world’s children desperately need this chance to break out of the chains of poverty and hunger and change their lives for the better, bringing their families, communities, nations, and the world along with them.

For further information about the benefits of feeding programs for school-age children and the survey, view the full report.

Acknowledgements

This report is made possible in part by the generous support from the following:

Healthy nations start with healthy children

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