The pandemic “ended a decade of growth for school meals programmes”, the report finds.
Carmen Burbano, director of the WFP’s school feeding programme, said: “We had such a good story before Covid. But then, Covid just kind of smashed it all.
“What we saw since last year is that the impact of school closures on the access of children to these vital programmes has really suffered.”
Comprehensive in-school feeding schemes provide an important social safety net and are a catalyst for progress, she said.
When schools use locally produced food, meals programmes can boost a community’s economy and increase employment. According to WFP calculations, some 1,668 new jobs are created for every 100,000 children fed.
Studies have also shown school meals can have a major impact on the future prospects of the world’s poorest children.
Access to nutritious meals staves off hunger, supports long-term health, and helps a child learn and thrive, ultimately helping them to achieve their full potential – something which benefits them both individually and across their society. This is especially true for girls: where there is a school meals programme running, girls stay in school longer, child marriage rates go down and teen pregnancies decrease.
Prof Professor Donald Bundy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the report, told The Telegraph that it was important to reach children in many countries where they are the biggest demographic – both now and for future generations.
“The average age here in the UK is 40 years, but let’s not forget that in countries like Nigeria, and Chad, the average age of a person is 15 or 16 years old,” he said.
“They’re very rapidly going to be the parents of the next generation and missing out on supporting these children will have very long term consequences.”