Universal School Meals
Providing breakfast and lunch to school attending children grades K-12th regardless of need or socioeconomic status.
Description: The American Public Health Association (APHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other public health entities have long emphasized the importance of healthy and nutritious meals for children and the effects that access to such resources can have on long-term education and health outcomes. According to the United Nations, school health and nutrition interventions can promote growth, and combat childhood poverty, hunger, and malnutrition (World Health Organization, 2021). Research from the CDC holds that children who participate in school lunch programs consume overall healthier diets than those who do not (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). School meal programs that include breakfast are associated with better attendance, fewer missed school days, and even better test scores (CDC, 2021). The United Nations (UN) and WHO note that school meal programs may act as “springboards” for transforming countries' food systems by incorporating locally grown food products and energizing local economies (WHO, 2021).
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), school lunch participation reduces food insecurity, improves dietary intake, and positively impacts health and obesity rates (Food Research & Action Center, 2017). FRAC holds that meeting children’s nutritional needs leads to a better learning environment (FRAC, 2017). Providing school meals will give children the fuel they need to focus in school and produce better education outcomes statewide. By providing breakfast and lunch free of charge to all students regardless of need, universal school meal programs work to destigmatize socioeconomic status, fostering a better learning environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states passed universal school meal programs that were backed by the Federal Government to ensure students had access to nutritious meals during the time of crisis. However, many such programs are set to expire if they have not already. Vermont state legislature passed An Act Relating to Universal School Breakfast and the Creation of the Task Force on Universal School Lunch during the 2022 legislative session. $29 million was appropriated from the Education Fund to the Agency of Education for the 2023 fiscal year to provide reimbursement to schools for the cost of these meals. The act took effect on July 1, 2022, with a sunset clause ending the program in July 2023. While this Act will greatly benefit the Vermont population for the 2022-2023 school year, consideration must be taken as to how Vermont could continue this program in the long term. The educational, economic, and health benefits of Universal School Meal programs are optimally achieved when the program promotes high student participation and utilizes locally sourced food products for many years in succession.
According to a report from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Center for Good Food Purchasing in 2021, school meal programs nationally are estimated to cost $19 billion (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2021). However, such programs are calculated to return approximately $40 billion in health and economic savings (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2021). Put more simply, every dollar invested in school meal programs has a return of two dollars in equitable health and economic benefits (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2021). Taken in the context of a cost-benefit analysis, the Universal School Meal Act in Vermont, estimated to cost $29 million for the 2022-2023 school year, could produce a net economic and health benefit of almost $60 million in Vermont in one year alone. The US Census Bureau estimates Vermont’s population under the age of 18 to be 18.3%, or approximately 118,139 (US Census Bureau, 2021). Thus, implementing universal school meals would directly benefit nearly 120 thousand students in the short term and provide lasting economic and health benefits for years to come.
Relationship to Existing Policy Statements:
The VtPHA supports the long-term provision of universal school meals to children in Vermont to promote healthy eating habits, proper nutrition, better educational outcomes, economic gain, and the health of the population.
The VtPHA Supported Actions:
Recognizing that historically underserved populations, such as people of color, are disproportionately of lower socioeconomic status, VtPHA supports the establishment of a long-term universal school meal program in Vermont as it will aid in providing resources to underserved populations and all children alike. By providing both breakfast and lunch to students in grades K-12th, this program will provide greater food security to the Vermont population. Many nonprofits in the state have outwardly supported legislation in this area including Hunger Free Vermont and Voices for Vermont’s Children. VtPHA supports the establishment of a long-term program for universal school meals in Vermont that requires schools to collaborate with local farmers and food providers both to boost local economies and provide fresh, nutritious meals to students across the state.
Providing subsidized school meals will not fix the issues of food insecurity in Vermont, but it will work to reduce it. It is likely that funding will pose the largest barrier to the establishment of a Universal School Meal Program in Vermont. VtPHA urges the Vermont legislature and Task Force on Universal School Lunch to consider the proven benefits of universal school meal programs and establish a program that can be funded in the long-term to ensure all Vermont students have access to healthy meals. Future sources of funding and resource allocation should be considered either to continue the program established by the Universal School Meals Act of 2022 or one of a similar design.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 21). School Meals. Retrieved May 10,
2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/npao/schoolmeals.htm
Food Research and Action Center. (2017, March 17). Benefits of School Lunch. Retrieved May
10, 2022, from https://frac.org/programs/national-school-lunch-program/benefits-school-lunch
Project Bread: Feed Kids, Solve Hunger. (2021, December 23). It’s Just Good Economics: The
Case for School Meals for All. ProjectBread.Org. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://feedkidsma.org/news-updates/it-s-just-good-economics-the-case-for-school-meals-for-all
S. 100, General Assembly, 2021-2022 Reg. Session, (Vermont, 2021).
Sorrells, A. (2022, March 29). The Uncertain Future of School Meals for All. EducationNC.
Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://www.ednc.org/uncertain-future-school-meals-for-all/
The Rockefeller Foundation & Center for Good Food Purchasing. (2021, November). True Cost
of Food: Case Study. The Rockefeller Foundation. https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/True-Cost-of-Food-School-Meals-Case-Study-Full-Report-Final.pdf
U.S. Census Bureau (2021). Vermont Quick Facts. Retrieved From:
World Health Organization. (2021, November 16). UN Agencies Back Bold Plan To Ensure
Every Child In Need Gets A Regular Healthy Meal In School By 2030. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/16-11-2021-un-agencies-back-bold-plan-to-ensure-every-child-in-need-gets-a-regular-healthy-meal-in-school-by-2030
About the association
VtPHA is a membership organization which facilitates collaboration among people who care about public health and are interested in protecting and promoting the health of Vermont residents.
VtPHA is an Affiliate of the American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA is the national voice of public health and champions the health of all people and all communities. They are the only organization that combines a 140-plus year perspective, the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health and a member community from all public health disciplines and over 40 countries. Learn more at www.apha.org.
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