Healthy school dinners continue to produce a marked improvement in national curriculum test results, according to new research.
The study, to be published in the Journal of Health Economics, shows kids eating the healthier lunches promoted by TV chef Jamie Oliver do far better in tests.
Absenteeism from sickness was also said to have dropped by around 14 per cent, while a child eating the healthier food will earn between £2,103 and £5,476 more over their lifetimes due to their improved literacy.
The results come five years after the chef launched his campaign to improve the food served up in schools. They also come just a few days after the ringfencing of the school lunch grant was lifted, allowing headteachers and local authorities to divert funds once dedicated to food. The Observer revealed that 30 local authorities were set to increase prices.
According to the Schools Food Trust there is a direct link between a percentage point rise in prices and a corresponding reduction in the take-up of meals. The official national figures on school lunch prices show that the average price for a two-course meal across primary and secondary schools with catering provided by the local authority was £1.88 in 2009/10.
The Local Authority Caterers Association said it was too early to speculate on the possible outcomes of the removal of the ring-fencing status of the school lunch grant. The impact of the loss of ring-fencing status, coupled with Local Government response to the economic situation nationally, has yet to be assessed and early conjecture about overall school meal price rises at this stage is both unwise and unhelpful, said national chairman Sandra Russell.
In a comment piece for The Observer paper this month, Oliver said he hopes the government will continue to invest in quality school food, and the integral support and training of kitchen staff. He wrote: I believe that any compromise on a childs right to a healthy school lunch... is child abuse on an unimaginable scale.