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Food insecurity amongst households with children is a growing concern globally. The impacts in children include poor mental health and reduced educational attainment. Providing universal free school meals is one potential way of addressing these impacts. This paper reports findings on the impact of a universal free school meals pilot in two English secondary schools. We adopted a mixed-methods, quasi-experimental design. The intervention schools were one mainstream school (n = 414) and one school for students with special educational needs (n = 105). Two other schools were used as comparators (n = 619; n = 117). The data collection comprised a cross sectional student survey during the pilot (n = 404); qualitative interviews with students (n = 28), parents (n = 20) and school staff (n = 12); and student observations of lunchtimes (n = 57). Qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis, and descriptive analyses and logistic regressions were conducted on the quantitative data. Self-reports of food insecurity were high at both intervention (26.6%) and comparator schools (25.8%). No effects of the intervention were seen in the quantitative findings on either hunger or food insecurity. Qualitative findings indicated that students, families and staff perceived positive impact on a range of outcomes including food insecurity, hunger, school performance, family stress and a reduction in stigma associated with means-tested free school meals. Our research provides promising evidence in support of universal free school meals in secondary schools as a strategy for addressing growing food insecurity. Future research should robustly test the impact of universal free school meals in a larger sample of secondary schools, using before and after measures as well as a comparator group.
|Journal||International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health|
|Publication status||Published - 22 Mar 2023|
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8074 EBI COVID-19 support scheme for early career researchers - Vicky Carlisle - BDC contribution
1/05/22 → 31/01/23