Nutrition Crisis Looms as Pandemic Cuts 39 Billion School Meals

A global nutrition crisis is looming as 39 billion school meals have been missed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, risking the futures of millions of the poorest children, according to the United Nations.

Closed classrooms mean 370 million children on average have missed about 40% of school meals globally, the UN’s World Food Programme and Unicef Office of Research said in a report. With many children reliant on the meals as a key source of nutrition, the agencies urged governments to prioritize school reopening.

“We risk losing a whole generation,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in a statement. “For many, the nutritious meal they get in school is the only food they will receive all day.”

Healthy and nutritious food is becoming out of reach for millions of people as the pandemic reduces incomes and boosts unemployment. Children can feel the effects of a poor diet well into adulthood, as it can weaken immune systems, limit mobility and even impair brain functioning. Malnutrition can also cause poor school performance, hurting future career prospects.

Nutrition Crisis Looms as Pandemic Cuts 39 Billion School Meals

Meal programs can provide incentives for the most vulnerable children to return to school. Estimates show that 24 million children are at risk of dropping out of school due to the coronavirus crisis, reversing enrollment progress made in recent decades, the UN agencies said.

During the pandemic, there has been a 30% fall in the coverage of essential nutrition services, such as micronutrient supplementation and treating severe malnutrition in children, the organizations said.

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