70,000 sign petitions to keep free school lunches – as evidence shows they reduce hunger, improve behaviour, nutrition and attendance

Contrary to the Associate Minister of Education’s claims, analysis of Healthy School Lunches Programme – Ka Ora, Ka Ako assessments has revealed it provides excellent value for the taxpayer dollar, as a groundswell of public opposition to Government cuts continues to grow.

Two petitions against cuts to the programme by Health Coalition Aotearoa and the NZ Labour Party have attracted 70,000 signatures between them as of Thursday March 28.

Strong evidence backing Ka Ora, Ka Ako was presented at a webinar by A Better Start – National Science Challenge and Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) this week.

“Multiple assessments show the programme is very good value for public investment, it’s effectively feeding hungry kids with healthy food, supporting their physical, mental health, wellbeing and education,” HCA co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn said.

“An ERO report out today calls for national action on disruptive student behaviour and you have to ask about the possible causes for this – including food poverty or being ‘hangry’ – a problem school lunches can address.”

Analysis of the programme assessments showed a wide range of benefits including:

– less hunger, particularly for food insecure ākonga

– better nutrition – ākonga eat more nutritious food, with more vegetables and less snacks and sweets eaten.

– provides at least 1/3 of daily requirements for 78% of the key nutrients children need to thrive

– improved mental health and wellbeing – children at Ka Ora, Ka Ako schools reported a 6-14% improvement in mental health and wellbeing compared to peers in other schools

– employment – the programme supports 2455 jobs, with more than half full-time and paid the living wage, involving more than 180 business providers

– improved attendance, energy, engagement, attention and focus, and behaviour of students

Researchers also pointed to evidence of food poverty for students with data from the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealing 14.1% of students in Aotearoa are missing meals due to a lack of money, while the OECD average is 8.2%.

“For ākonga Māori, the situation is even worse with 1 in 4 missing meals once a week and 1 in 10 missing meals every day. We owe it to the future of these tamariki to support them with good nutritional meals that support their learning and help them to thrive,” Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau said.

HCA is imploring the Government to look at the evidence and listen to principals and children who receive the lunches before making decisions on funding cuts for Ka Ora, Ka Ako.

“Associate Education Minister David Seymour says he can cut funding and still achieve the same results, but he hasn’t explained how he will do this,” Professor Swinburn said.

“Will he target lunches only to those children who meet a lower poverty threshold and then make them wear a badge to show they are eligible? If so, how will teachers monitor this? And, what impact will this have on uptake of the programme, given the stigma this will create? What impact will any cut to the programme have on economic viability for suppliers, and how many jobs will be lost?”


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