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 interventions they need to achieve their human capital potential. For the education sector, delivery of health services and health sector investments 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.

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.

Although the relationship between healthy children and able learners has been well-established, in practice many children remain inadequately supported. Prior estimates in low- and lower-middle income countries have found annual public spending for health for ages 5-20 is less than 3 billion USD. In comparison, public expenditure for education during the same age range is estimated to be more than 200 billion. Because health is a prerequisite for learning, these substantial educational investments likely fail to realize their true dividends as inadequate health serves as a constraint to learning and development.

The inadequacy of health investments for school-age children is being recognized more broadly. Furthermore, interest in SHN is more pronounced due to COVID, and school health has become a major priority action for building back schools, and not only in low- and lower-middle income countries.

Icon of spotlights Practitioner Spotlight


Food for Education

School meals are an effective way to keep children in school and learning while there. Food for Education delivers subsidized school meals to primary schools, sourcing ingredients from local farmers and preparing meals in central kitchens to ensure all meals meet food safety standards. Schools that partner with Food for Education perform statistically better on national education exams than non-enrolled schools.

Food for Education uses a digital money platform to enable parents to contribute towards the subsidized meals technology ($0.15 per meal). This technology also allows Food for Education to monitor the program’s effectiveness and reach in real time. Food for Education reached 33,000 children daily in 2020 and intends to reach 100,000 by the end of 2022

Icon of a newspaper School Health and Nutrition in the News

| Blog

Governments across Africa are rebuilding home-grown school feeding (HGSF) programs to help their recovery from the pandemic

The Brookings Institution published a blog on Africa Day of School Feeding which discusses the role of home-grown school feeding in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the blog here.

| Webinar

How to Make Better Policies for School Meals

The OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate hosted a webinar focused on how to overcome evidence gaps in food systems to support policy makers around the world develop better policies for food systems. Watch the recording here.

| Journal Article

Eligibility for the use of ready-made spectacles among children in a school-based programme in Ghana

A cross-sectional study on a low-cost vision care intervention in public junior high schools in Bongo district, Ghana was published in PLOS Global Public Health. Read the full article here!