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.

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?
Illustration of a school in the center of a community
© 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


Healthy Learners

Healthy Learners supports the Zambian Ministries of Health and General Education to deliver health services to Lusaka primary schools. Their model trains and equips teachers as school health workers who monitor student health, assess children who are unwell, administer basic medical care, and refer sick children, thereby making schools a principal access point into the healthcare system.

In response to COVID-19, they adapted programmatic operations by partnering with the school health workers to disseminate accurate health information, supporting the Zambia Ministry of Health to leverage schools as hubs for disease surveillance, and collaborating with both the health and education ministries to develop and implement Zambia’s COVID-19 guidelines for safe school reopening.

Learn more about Healthy Learners by watching a recording of their participation in the September 2020 Child Health Task Force webinar (passcode: .3G9JvAn).

Icon of a newspaper School Health and Nutrition in the News

| Webinar

School Health and Nutrition: Reach and Relevance for Adolescents

The Global Financing Facility (GFF) is hosting a webinar to launch a suite of tools designed to guide program planners through some of the key questions that arise in program development and investment prioritization to support adolescents in achieving their full potential. The event will engage the World Bank Task Team Leaders, technical bodies, and external funding agencies to discuss how these tools can be widely applied in practice. The programmatic briefs and Zoom link are available on the GFF website.

| Press Release

World Mental Health Day

On World Mental Health Day, October 6th, 2022, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), gave a speech at the UN Transforming Education Summit emphasizing the role of schools in protecting the mental health of children. WHO and UNICEF also launched a briefing note for national governments on promoting and protecting mental health in schools and learning environments. Learn more about supporting children's mental health and wellbeing through schools in this infographic, part of the newly released microlearning toolkit on school health and nutrition.

| Report

Highlights from "Ready to learn and thrive: school health and nutrition around the world"

UNESCO, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF, World Bank, World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO), with the support of the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and the UN Nutrition Secretariat released a brief presenting highlights from the new global school health and nutrition status report. The brief summarizes the report, Ready to learn and thrive: School health and nutrition around the world. Based on the most comprehensive and up to date data, the report provides an overview of the extent to which countries have school health and nutrition (SHN) policies and programmes in place. It aims to encourage efforts to improve, scale up and sustain SHN policies and programmes to improve overall well-being of learners and to provide a basis for monitoring progress. Stay tuned for the release of the full-length report in November, 2022.