School feeding programs are ubiquitous in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and may have critical implications for the health and education of school-age children and adolescents. This systematic review aimed to assess the impacts of school feeding on educational and health outcomes of children and adolescents in LMICs. Interventional studies on the effects of school feeding on nutritional and health outcomes of children and adolescents receiving primary or secondary education in LMICs were included. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Library, and grey literature were searched (through December 2019) to identify eligible studies. We included randomized controlled trials and controlled before-after studies on school feeding conducted in LMICs among children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 who received primary or secondary education. Two reviewers independently conducted study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessment. Meta-analyses were performed for outcomes available in three or more independent studies. Subgroup analyses were conducted by study design and school feeding modality whenever possible. Fifty-seven articles met the inclusion criteria for the review, including 44 randomized controlled trials and 13 controlled before-after studies; 19 articles were included in the meta-analysis. School feeding resulted in a significant increase in height (mean difference = 0.32 cm; confidence interval (CI) = 0.03, 0.61; P = 0.032) and weight (mean difference: 0.58 kg; 95% 95% CI = 0.22, 0.93; P = 0.001) over 12 months, compared to those in the control groups. School feeding also resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of school days attended (2.6%; 95% CI = 1.2%, 3.9%; P < 0.001). School feeding is an important approach to improving the health and education outcomes of children and adolescents living in LMICs. More well-designed research is needed to establish further the effectiveness of school feeding for nutritional outcomes and academic achievement.
Journal of Global Health, 11 (2021), 04051
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