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Fuel for life – the vital role of school feeding worldwide

Date: March 9, 2021
Insights type: Blog
Subject Area: Nutrition & Health
Categories: Blog

IDF Director General Caroline Emond shares her views on the importance of global school meal programs, incorporating nutrient-dense foods like milk and dairy, and their important role in addressing hunger, malnutrition, access to school and education, and alleviation of poverty.

On Thursday 11 March we celebrate the 9th International School Meals Day, with the theme for 2021 ‘Eat for the health of it’, exploring affordable, nutritious foods and links between food and nutrition and children’s physical and mental health. To learn more about School Feeding Programs, visit the World Food Program website: State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 | World Food Programme (

This year’s event will be both a great celebration and the chance to bring together children and communities across the world to share their experiences, stories, and news. It is particularly exciting for IDF as we prepare for the imminent launch of our School Milk Knowledge Hub. Contact us for exclusive updates on the launch date.

Dairy’s role in nourishing children through school milk or meal programs

School milk programs can be traced back to 100 years or more in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, where school milk interventions were created as a social safety net for children. Milk and dairy foods play an important role in healthy eating patterns, and milk continues to be an important component of school meals globally. It should be noted that some countries have dedicated school milk programs and others include milk (and dairy foods) as part of larger school meal programs, which give children access to the nutrients they need to grow healthfully and optimally.

Nearly 160 million children around the world currently receive and benefit from dedicated school milk programs. The benefits of providing school children with milk are plentiful: dairy’s well-known natural nutrient-richness provides an abundant supply of high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, and vitamins B2 and B12. School milk programs are recognized for their positive impact on the nutrition needs of school aged children to support their growth and development. Poor diets and malnutrition have devastating effects on children’s health, their school performance, and ability to learn.

School milk and feeding programs contribute to the achievement of several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – SDG Goal 2: Zero Hunger, ending hunger, providing nutritious food, ending stunting. The programs also contribute to the UN Food System Summit’s Action Tracks in particular Action Track 1 – Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all and Action Track 4 – Advance equitable livelihoods.

Experts agree that school meal programs have a positive effect on children’s nutritional and health outcomes. Consuming nutrient-dense foods like milk that are made readily available in school meal programs is also associated with improved academics and behavior.

Recognising the importance – enacting change

In order to be successful, school milk programs need long-term commitment and funding. Understanding programs and getting inspired by others are then crucial.

It is because of the global importance of school milk programs, that IDF began its global assessment work on school milk programs. Since 1993, IDF has provided an overview of the development, implementation, and improvement of school milk programs. Initial work undertaken by IDF provided the foundation for the FAO survey conducted in 1998, published in IDF bulletin 341/1999. In 2013, the FAO and IDF again worked collaboratively to gain insights into milk programs in operation, in the largest global review ever conducted. The new data was compared to the 1998 results, enabling a unique insight invaluable to those involved in running programs and those within the dairy sector supplying the milk, and the results were published in the IDF bulletin 480/2015.

IDF’s updated bulletin 505/2020 on school milk, released last year, provides further recognition for the importance of school milk programs and their positive contribution to children’s health and nutrition.

Important next steps in the school feeding journey

It is therefore vital that the importance of school milk programs in promoting good nutrition and health in our children continues to be recognized and supported by governments, intergovernmental organisations, and various stakeholders from the communities.

IDF with its vast network and knowledge on the topic is a key element in bringing all this information together, compiling data from global experts in the field on different programs around the world.

Within weeks, IDF will launch a Global School Milk Knowledge Hub. This interactive hub will bring together important information role of milk and dairy products in sustainable food systems, sustainable diets, and the UN sustainable development goals. It will provide case study examples and data to assist those wishing to implement school milk programs in their country and will be an invaluable source of information for managers of school milk programs worldwide. IDF with its vast network and knowledge on the topic is a key element in bringing all this information together.

“On International School Meals Day, we recognise the critical importance of school milk and feeding programs offering milk around the world and their contribution to addressing hunger, malnutrition, access to school and education, and alleviation of poverty.  School milk and feeding programs are, quite simply, building blocks for healthy living for many children around the globe.”

To register your interest in the IDF School Milk Knowledge Hub launch, please contact the IDF Communications Team

About IDF’s school milk bulletin

Following on from its previous research into the area, earlier this year, IDF shared an extensive review of global school milk programs, introducing data on their important impact on childhood nutrition.

Compiling research from global experts in the field on different programs around the world, the IDF bulletin ‘The contribution of school milk programs to the nutrition of children worldwide’ provides insights on the range of products, along with raw data and literature review. Available to download now, the 2020 edition includes a review of the evidence of the nutritional benefits of these programs, offering new perspectives into the global impact of school milk programs.

Caroline Emond
Director General – International Dairy Federation

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