Childhood malnutrition is commonplace among poor rural communities in China. In 2012, China launched its first nationwide school‐feeding program (SFP) to address this problem. This study examines the prevalence of malnutrition before and after the SFP and identifies possible reasons for the trends observed.
Ordinary least squares regression and propensity score matching were used to analyze data from 2 cross‐sectional surveys of 100 rural primary schools in northwestern China. Participants were fourth‐and fifth‐grade students. Outcome measures include anemia rates, hemoglobin levels, body mass index, and height for age Z scores.
Three years after implementation of the SFP, malnutrition rates among sample students had not fallen. The SFP had no statistically significant effect on either anemia rates or BMI, but was linked to an increase in the proportion of students with below normal height for age Z scores. Meals provided to students fell far short of national recommendations that the SPF should provide 40% of the recommended daily allowance of micronutrients.
Despite significant budgetary outlays between 2012 and 2015, China's SFP has not reduced the prevalence of malnutrition among sample students. To make the SFP more effective, funding and human resources both need to be increased.