Madrid, September 19 (EFE).- Expanding school canteens for all children in infancy and primary has long-term benefits. According to an analysis by Stockholm University professor José Montalban based on research conducted in Sweden, students grow taller, are healthier, perform better and earn more as adults.
In a telephone interview with EFE, the expert on the economics of education defended that the universalization of school cafeterias is a policy with the highest return. Even more than reducing the student-teacher ratio, one of the measures most demanded by the Spanish education community for a long time.
Improving the quality of nutrition over a nine-year period “has an impact that ranges from improving their academic skills” to better paying jobs in the future.
Their cost-benefit analysis is based on a recent research study published in Sweden, which combines historical data with administrative data for the Swedish population over 50 years (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 better futures
Improving nutritional quality over a nine-year period — from the second cycle of pre-school to primary — “has an impact that ranges from improving their academic skills to getting better-paying jobs in the future.” There are also indirect effects such as increasing the labor supply of mothers.
In fact, Montalban explained, it was found that Swedish children who went to school canteens were as tall as adults (the country measures the entire population at age 18 for its military registration).
In addition, it was found that students who attended universal school cafeterias during their early education had a 3% increase in income during their careers compared to those who did not. Those with the lowest household income benefited the most from the policy, increasing their future income by 5.8%.
In Spain, researchers from the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University explained, “Almost all our canteen infrastructure is built, about 70% of centers already have them, but only 40% of children use them. And elementary, so there is a lot of room for improvement.”
Added to this is the fact that only 11.2% of children have a dining room scholarship, as a result, to make this service universal, more than 1,600 million euros will need to be invested. He noted, “This figure is not excessive when the education budget in our country exceeds 50,000 million.”
In the first place, Montalban defends, it is necessary to create canteens in educational centers where they do not yet exist, which will have high costs in the first years and from there increase the budget by 3% ».
Budget and subsidy, key to school canteens
In Sweden, Finland and Estonia, school canteens are fully subsidized. A small portion is subsidized in France, Italy and Great Britain, and in Norway and Denmark there are no school canteens and children bring their own food to school.
This last option, the teacher said, does not help achieve one of the basic objectives of school cafeterias, which is that all children enjoy a balanced diet and “have enough nutrition to face the day”.
Apparently, Spain is one of the countries in the European Union with the highest number of overweight children.
Other outcomes of universal school cafeterias are that years of schooling and chances of entering university increase.
In Spain, only 11.2% of children have a dining room scholarship, as a result, to make this service universal, more than 1,600 million euros will be invested.
Spain has a partially subsidized school canteen system, with each autonomous community having their own control over services and strong differences between autonomous communities.
In the 2020/21 academic year, the daily price for the dining room was between 3.5 and 6.5 euros per day (between 612.5 and 1,137 euros per year).
Edited by Belen Mayo