School meals have become popular educational interventions at least in part because they provide incentives for school enrolment and attendance. However, there is little evidence regarding the effect of school meals on children's health and nutrition. This paper addresses that gap. More specifically, it provides evidence concerning the effect of the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) in India on children's health outcomes following a severe drought in Andhra Pradesh.
The results of this study present compelling evidence that the MDMS acts as a safety net for children. Health measures were collected from a sample of about 2,000 children in 2002 when they were about 6-18 months old and in 2007 when they were between the ages of 4½ and 6 years. The study documents that, while children whose households suffered from the 2002-3 drought (which was the most severe drought nationally in two decades) had suffered a large decline in their height-for-age and weight-for-age in 2007, this decline was entirely counteracted by the Midday Meals for children who had access to the Scheme.
The econometric analysis accounts for the observed and unobserved differences between children who have access to the programme and those who do not; a large number of characteristics of children and their households are included in the empirical analysis and an instrumental variables approach is taken to correct for any remaining differences in comparability.
In short, this study provides robust evidence that the MDMS has had a buffering effect on the health outcomes of children affected by drought in Andhra Pradesh.