School lunches evaluation report finds the programme is working

Early evidence suggests young people are less hungry, eating healthier food and have better physical and mental wellbeing since the introduction of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.
An evaluation of the pilot programme has been released today. It is based on data from 38 schools and almost 2,700 students in two regions. Changes were measured over the first 2-3 months of the pilot.
“These initial findings are very encouraging. The interim report shows that the school lunches programme is improving food security and mental wellbeing, especially for our most disadvantaged learners. It also improved diet and nutrition for all students in the programme,” Chris Hipkins says.
“The report shows that food in schools is making a big difference for those students who need it most – and their whānau. This backs up what many teachers, principals and parents are telling me, and my colleagues, about the differences they are seeing in the classroom, at home, and to the family budget.” 
The school lunches pilot programme ‘often achieved more than what was expected in the initial 2 to 3 months,’ and benefits were ‘greater’ for the most disadvantaged learners, the evaluation report says. The pilot also showed ‘very good progress towards addressing hunger’, as well as ‘progress towards improving well-being,’ according to the report.
The report says the pilot showed:
‘large benefits’ for all primary and intermediate learners in respect of the types of food available and consumed
‘large gains’ in fullness for learners who previously had insufficient food and reported feeling full after lunch as a result of the programme
‘large gains’ in mental wellbeing by the most disadvantaged learners
a reduction in the proportion of learners with low health quality of life
improvements for learners, on average, in terms of their overall heath quality of life, as well as in their physical and emotional functioning.
“I agreed with the report that ‘more time’ is needed to measure the programme’s broader impacts across more schools before conclusions could be drawn on its longer-term effects,” Chris Hipkins said.
“A review of 216 food in schools’ programmes in 52 low- and middle-income countries found, for example, that providing a nutritious lunch is one of the few education relevant interventions that show a positive impact on enrolment, attendance, completions, and learning. A Swedish study found it took several years before some changes became statistically significant. Ministry of Education officials also tell me it takes around six months for students to adjust to the taste and content of the meals on offer.
“Over time, we believe that New Zealand’s free and healthy school lunches programme will deliver education gains for many students, in addition to the nutritional, hunger reduction, and wellbeing gains that they are already experiencing according to the report,” Chris Hipkins says.
Planning for the evaluation of the expanded lunches programme is underway. This will seek to track the progress of larger numbers of the most disadvantaged learners, as well as the wider benefits of the programme, including to local economies. It will also seek to incorporate the voices of whānau, iwi, and the wider community.
There are now 875 schools with around 205,000 students receiving free and healthy lunches, and the programme is estimated to have generated around 1,980 jobs since its inception.
Read the interim evaluation here:

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