Madrid, Sep 19 (EFE).- The extension of the school canteen to all children in childhood and primary school has enormous long-term benefits. Students get taller, healthier, perform better and, as adults, earn more, according to an analysis by Stockholm University professor José Montalbán, based on research conducted in Sweden.
In a telephone interview with EFE, the specialist in economics of education defends that the generalization of the school canteen is one of the most profitable policies. Even more than the drop in student-teacher ratios, one of the measures most demanded by the Spanish educational community for a long time.

Improving nutritional quality over a nine-year period has “an impact that ranges from improving their academic abilities to securing” better-paying jobs in the future

Their cost-benefit analysis is based on a recent study published in Sweden, which combines historical data with administrative data for the Swedish population over the age of 50 (from when students are in primary school until they retire). . The conclusion is that the results can be extrapolated to Spain, he says.

Taller, healthier students with a brighter future

Improving nutritional quality over a nine-year period – from preschool senior to primary – has “an impact that ranges from improving their academic abilities to obtaining better-paying jobs in the future” . There are also indirect effects such as the increase in the labor supply of mothers.
Even, explains Montalbán, we saw that Swedish children who went to the school canteen were taller in adulthood (The country measures its entire population at 18 for its military registration).
Additionally, students who attended the universal school cafeteria during their primary schooling were found to have increased their earnings by 3% throughout their working lives compared to those who did not. People with the lowest family incomes benefited the most from this policy, increasing their future income by 5.8%.

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Archive image of a tray in the dining room of the Padre Catalá Public Nursery and Primary School. EFE / Juan Carlos Cardenas

In Spain, explains the researcher from the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University, “we have almost all the canteen infrastructure built, about 70% of the centers already have them, but only 40% of the children use them” . Primary, so there is a lot of room for improvement.
To this is added the fact that only 11.2% of children have a dining room purse, therefore, to universalize this service, it would be necessary to invest more than 1,600 million euros. The figure, he underlines, “is not exorbitant if we take into account that the education budget in our country exceeds 50 billion”.
In the first place, defends Montalbán, it would be necessary to build canteens in educational centers where they do not yet exist, which would have a higher cost in the first years, and from there increase the budget by 3% ”.

Budgets and subsidies, keys for the school canteen

In Sweden, Finland and Estonia, school canteens are fully subsidized. In France, Italy and Great Britain a small part is subsidized and in Norway and Denmark there are no school canteens and children bring their own food to school.
This last option, says the teacher, does not achieve one of the fundamental objectives of the school cafeteria, which is that all children have a balanced diet and “have enough food to face the day”.
Precisely, Spain is one of the countries of the European Union with a greater number of overweight children.
Another consequence of the universal school cafeteria, the years of schooling and the probability of going to university are increased.

In Spain, only 11.2% of children have a dining room purse, therefore, to universalize this service, it would be necessary to invest more than 1,600 million euros.

Spain has a partially subsidized school canteen system, in which each autonomous community has its own regulations on the services it offers, and there are strong differences between the autonomous communities.
During the 2020/21 academic year, the daily price for the dining hall varied between 3.5 and 6.5 euros per day (between 612.5 and 1,137 euros per year).

Edited by Belen Mayo

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