School Health and Nutrition

Investments in school health are a strategic win-win for a country’s education and health sectors - and more critically - a win for children and adolescents.

Girls washing hands
Photo: Madagascar, Crystal Thompson, USAID
For the health sector, schools represent a cost-effective platform for reaching school-aged children with the health and nutrition interventions they need to achieve their  potential. For the education sector, delivery of health and nutrition services ensures that a child’s poor health is not a bottleneck to learning, growth, and cognitive formation. For these reasons, investments in school health and nutrition are synergistic and essential to other educational investments focusing on quality and access. Moreover, school health sets the stage for children to thrive and become transformative agents in their communities.

Curious how to advocate for school health and nutrition interventions? Check out our toolkit on school health and nutrition: a set of multimedia microlearning products for health and education policymakers, practitioners and donors.

Go to the toolkit

What is School Health?

Broadly we can think about school health in terms of what is required for children to be healthy. One of the most well-known frameworks for making school health concrete and parsing it into major component areas is UNESCO’s Focusing Resources on Effective School Health (FRESH) framework. In this framework, there are four pillars of school health:

  • Policies. Are there national, sub-national as well as school policies that make children safe and signal a commitment to every child’s health?
  • School environment. Is the school environment safe and free from hazards? Is there clean water and other sanitation services?
  • Services. What sort of routine health services are offered at the school to students and are those appropriate and adequate for the students’ needs? Services vary and examples include school feeding, deworming, HIV/AIDS prevention education, treatment for malaria and routine screenings for vision and hearing, among others.
  • Education. Are students provided with age-appropriate information to empower them to take ownership over their health and well-being?
© Partnership for Child Development. Used with the permission of Partnership for Child Development. Further permission required for reuse.

Icon of a book and brain What We Know About the Benefits of Strong School-Health Programs

Quite simply, healthy children learn better. For instance, certain conditions that are prevalent among school-age children and adolescents can impair cognition, attention span, and learning. To take one example, the average IQ loss for children with untreated worm infections is estimated to be 3.75 IQ points per child, and the average IQ points lost due to anemia is even higher. The good news is that most of these conditions are easily treatable. School-based health interventions in areas where these conditions are prevalent could result in 2.5 additional years of schooling for affected children. Plus, an integrated package of interventions can further maximize impact.

Nearly every country offers some form of school-based or school-linked health service to improve the physical health and nutritional status of school-going students. Approximately one-in-two children receive a meal in school each day. 

Although the relationship between healthy children and able learners has been well-established, in practice many children remain inadequately supported. Annual public spending for health ages 5-20 is less than 3 billion USD. Because health is a prerequisite for learning, the substantial educational investments likely fail to realize their true dividends as inadequate health serves as a constraint to learning and development.


Icon of spotlights Practitioner Spotlight


USAID/Senegal Country Mission

USAID/Senegal supports a $2 million, three-year project to increase access to water in school settings of the Matam Region of Senegal to improve children’s ability to learn. This investment is intended to improve students’ learning conditions through better access to water at hand-washing stations, including adding or rehabilitating micro-boreholes with solar pumps and by bringing water to schools in arid areas with the help of donkey-drawn water carts. These investments will be coupled with school hygiene education.

Icon of a newspaper School Health and Nutrition in the News

| Report

State of School Feeding Worldwide, 2022

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) released its biannual flagship publication, providing an overview on how countries support their children through effective school feeding programmes. This report uses the best available data sources to provide an overview of coverage, implementation practices and costs of school-based health and nutrition programmes worldwide.

| Special Update

International School Meals Day: Launch of New Animated Video

Learning while hungry is nearly impossible. In honor of International School Meals Day, the Child Health Task Force developed a new animated video on the benefits of school feeding programs for children. School meals are one of the most effective non-teaching interventions to improve learning. They encourage children to attend school regularly and foster equitable opportunities to learn. Making these programs effective requires the support and input of many sectors, including education, health, and agriculture.

| Webinar

Ready to Learn and Thrive: Sharing the School Health and Nutrition Global Status Report

The Child Health Task Force, UNESCO, and LSHTM co-hosted a webinar to mark the publication of the report Ready to Learn and Thrive: School Health and Nutrition around the WorldListen to the recording and access the presentation slides here on the website.