Child food insecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: urgent need for policy evaluation and reform in Israel’s school feeding programs

Janetta Azarieva, Elliot M. Berry, Aron M. Troen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Even in high-income countries like Israel, children have been particularly vulnerable to the surge in food insecurity driven by quarantines, unemployment, and economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, School Feeding Programs (SFPs) can help to ensure child food security. In the wake of the pandemic, policy makers worldwide have been challenged to adapt national SFPs to provide nutritional support to children (and indirectly to their families) during extended school closures. Most national SFPs implemented contingency plans to ensure continued nutritional support for children. In Israel, where SFPs were largely suspended during long periods of mandated school closing, there was a loss of 30–50% of feeding days for the ~ 454,000 children enrolled in the program. The lack of emergency contingency planning and failure to maintain Israeli SFPs during school closures reveals longstanding structural policy flaws that hindered coordination between relevant ministries and authorities and impeded the mobilization of funds and existing programs to meet the emergent need. The school feeding law does not identify child food security as an explicit aim, there are no benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating the program to ensure that the food aid reaches the children most in need, even routinely, and the Ministry of Education had no obligation to maintain the program and to marshal data on the participants that could be acted upon in the emergency. Moreover, because Israeli SFPs are “selective”, in other words, implemented according to community risk (low-income, high poverty rate) and geographical factors, attendant stigma and financial burdens can make participation in the program less attractive to families and communities that need them the most. We argue that Israel should make urgent, long-term improvements to the SFPs as follows: First, eliminating childhood food insecurity should be made an explicit goal of legislation in the broader context of national social, health, and nutritional goals, and this includes ensuring SFPs are maintained during emergencies. Second, the government should assume responsibility for the routine assessment and data collection on food insecurity among Israeli children. Third, SFPs should be subjected to rigorous independent program evaluation. Finally, a “universal” SFP providing nutritious diets would likely improve the health of all Israeli children, across all socioeconomic backgrounds. These steps to guarantee that Israeli children have food to realize their full physical and cognitive potential would emphasize Israel’s firm commitment to support multiple dimensions of health, educational achievement, and societal values, to combat the complex and long-term consequences of the pandemic, and to prepare for the next one.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number13
JournalIsrael Journal of Health Policy Research
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Food insecurity
  • Israel
  • Malnutrition
  • Nutrition policy
  • School feeding programs

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