Panel Paper: Supporting Hungry Students: A Global Survey of School Meal Programs

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Travis W. Reynolds1,2, Arlene Mitchell3, Ayala Wineman2,4, C. Leigh Anderson2,4 and Vedavati Patwardhan4, (1)Colby College, (2)Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group, (3)Global Child Nutrition Foundation, (4)University of Washington

School feeding programs provide in-school meals, snacks, and/or take-home rations to at least 368 million pre-primary, primary, and secondary school children worldwide (World Food Programme, 2013). The perceived value of these programs – reducing hunger, improving nutrition, providing an incentive to attend school and a market for local smallholder farmers – has garnered support from bilaterals, multilaterals, and national governments. Yet while some recent reports have analyzed characteristics of school feeding programs for selected case studies (World Bank, 2016) or globally (World Food Programme, 2013), no publicly-available repository of systematically collected information exists on school feeding programs globally. In the absence of these data, it is difficult for policy makers to assess the design, implementation, and effectiveness of existing programs and funding. Compiling these standardized data, however, and using them to compare the success of school-feeding programs across countries, introduces a different set of biases.

For the past 19 years, the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) has held an annual forum bringing government officials responsible for school meal programs and other stakeholders together to discuss school meal program design and implementation. Discussions with stakeholders at the annual forum have highlighted strong interest in compiling and sharing a database of detailed information on global school meals programs. In the past four forums, the GCNF has piloted different surveys asking detailed questions on country programs, and it is now working to develop a Global School Meals Survey asking a standard set of questions of 150 countries around the world, with the goal of identifying trends, gaps, and opportunities to guide governments’, GCNF’s, and other stakeholders’ decisions and investments related to school meal programs.

This paper analyzes the challenges in designing a cross-jurisdictional survey intended to produce standardized comparable metrics for school meal programs globally. Survey design decisions are complicated by an increasing desire for standardized indicators for “dashboards” and other comparative measures, which may sacrifice important local validity and can have repercussions for the results of cross country comparisons. Differences in the contexts and scales of various government school meals programs complicate the desire to ask the same questions across programs in a comparable way. Stakeholders in various programs may also differ in terms of the characteristics they consider most important, and on how to measure them. Choices must be made between measuring program outputs (such as counting meals prepared or delivered or children enrolled) and outcomes (such as child anthropometrics). Further challenges arise from the need to validate survey information collected from government officials, as responses must be cross-checked against any available public information. At the same time, efforts to increase survey efficiency depend on the ability to access available information on school meals programs, to orient and target interviews with survey respondents. We report on key lessons learned in designing and piloting the survey with an initial pilot of over 100 countries, and on the implications of these lessons for designing and implementing similar global surveys of country policies and programs and the desire for dashboard metrics.