School Feeding Crucial in Crisis Times, Yet the Most Needy Still Miss Out, New Report Finds

Published May 24, 2013
Last Updated May 20, 2021

The State of School Feeding Worldwide report is being launched today by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), providing for the first time a global picture and analysis of school feeding programs in well-off countries as well as in developing nations, and data on how governments use school meals as a “safety net” in times of crisis.

According to the research, around 368 million children — about 1 out of every 5 — get a meal at school every day in 169 developing and developed countries. Global investment in these programs is about $75 billion, with most coming from government budgets.

Yet despite the global nature of school feeding, the coverage of these programs is lowest where they are most needed. In low-income countries, where children are most likely to be poor and hungry, only 18 percent receive a daily meal at school, compared to nearly 49 percent of children in middle-income countries.

“School feeding assures that where quality education is available, children are able to take advantage of the opportunity to learn,” said WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin. “It’s an investment that pays off in the future with better educated, stronger and healthier adults and it’s also a critical safety net to prevent the most vulnerable from suffering in times of crisis.”

In the past five years, at least 38 countries have scaled up their school feeding programs in response to a crisis, whether related to food prices, conflict, natural disaster or financial volatility.

“During the food and fuel crises in 2008 many governments struggled to protect the most vulnerable from hunger and looked to school meals to achieve that. In the current recession, even wealthy nations are examining how school meals can prevent families sliding deeper into poverty and hunger,” said State of School Feeding Worldwide lead author Carmen Burbano.

School feeding provides an array of benefits in terms of education, nutrition, income transfer and local agricultural production. For every $1 spent by governments and donors WFP estimates that at least $3 is gained in economic returns, according to the report.

WFP has been operating school meals programs in developing countries for more than half a century. In 2012, WFP provided meals or nutritious snacks in school for 24.7 million children in 63 countries, including take home rations for 1.3 million girls and 500,000 boys — providing an incentive for poor families to keep their children in class, rather than pull them out to work in the fields, in the factories or in the home.

WFP supports national governments to improve their capacities to implement high-quality, sustainable school feeding programs — allowing a transition from WFP-run programs to nationally-owned and operated school meals programs.

State of School Feeding Worldwide is being presented today at the largest annual meeting of school feeding experts, co-hosted by the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and WFP’s Centre of Excellence Against Hunger in Brazil.


WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  Each year WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.

For more information please contact:

Rene McGuffin, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1 (202) 653-0010 ext. 1149, Mob. +1 (202) 422-3383