School Meals? Head of Inclusive Finance at AGRA, proposed a “sugar tax” on soft drinks or a “fat tax.”

Nairobi, Kenya – May 29, 2024

The push for increased investment in school meals across Africa gained momentum today with the suggestion of a novel funding mechanism. Reacting to a Rockefeller Foundation-led event at the African Development Bank meeting, Hedwig Siewertsen, Head of Inclusive Finance at AGRA, proposed a “sugar tax” on soft drinks or a “fat tax” on fast food as a potential source of funding for healthy school meals programs.

The Rockefeller Foundation event, “Create Fiscal Space for School Meals: Towards Agenda 2063, SDGs and Human Capital Development,” highlighted the critical need to bridge the funding gap for African school meals. While these programs offer significant benefits, millions of children still lack access due to a $4.7 billion annual shortfall.

Siewertsen’s suggestion adds to the ongoing discussion on innovative financing solutions. The event explored options such as debt swaps, themed bonds, and climate funds for clean cooking in schools. Successful models from other countries, leveraging taxes and levies, were also presented.

The idea of a sugar or fat tax has sparked debate. Proponents argue it could generate revenue while discouraging unhealthy food choices and promoting better nutrition for all. Opponents raise concerns about potential burdens on businesses and consumers.

School meals play a critical role in supporting students’ health, well-being, and academic performance, particularly those from low-income families. Here are some key reasons why school meals are vital:

  1. Nutritional Benefits: School meals are designed to meet specific nutritional standards, ensuring children receive essential nutrients that might be lacking at home. These meals provide balanced portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein, contributing to better overall diet quality and health outcomes for children​​​​.
  2. Improved Academic Performance: Research shows that students with access to nutritious school meals perform better academically. Consuming healthy meals during the school day has been linked to higher test scores, better attendance, and fewer behavioral problems. For instance, a study found that offering schoolwide free meals improved math performance and reduced suspensions among elementary and Hispanic students​​.
  3. Reduction in Food Insecurity: School meals help reduce food insecurity among children, providing a reliable source of nutrition that families might otherwise struggle to afford. This is especially important during economic hardships or when other safety nets are insufficient​​.
  4. Healthier Eating Habits: School meal programs promote healthier eating habits by providing meals that adhere to rigorous nutritional guidelines. These programs encourage the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, setting the foundation for lifelong healthy eating behaviors​​.
  5. Economic and Social Benefits: School meals help reduce poverty and hunger by alleviating the financial burden on families. Universal free meal programs also remove the stigma associated with receiving free meals, ensuring all students can benefit without social barriers​​​​.


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