Building the food and nutrition literacy of school-age children
More than 320,000 teachers, known as ‘Health and Wellness Ambassadors’, have been trained in about 175,000 schools nationwide.
Schools provide a unique setting for delivering interventions to school-going children and adolescents, including education to promote healthy diets and build lifelong nutrition literacy.
India is home to more than 250 million adolescents – the largest cohort worldwide – and is at the forefront of school-based nutrition programming. The Government of India has evolved its approaches over the past two decades to tackle the rising prevalence of overweight among adolescents, alongside persistent underweight, micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia.
The triple burden of malnutrition is addressed through a package of interventions, including screening and referral for undernutrition, weekly iron and folic acid supplementation, twice-yearly deworming, the provision of fortified foods in school lunches, the provision of safe drinking water in schools, and age-appropriate education on nutrition, hygiene and health.
In 2019, UNICEF and selected partners provided technical support to the National Council of Education Research and Training to develop a set of 11 training modules to equip schoolteachers with the knowledge and skills to deliver food, nutrition, health and hygiene education. These modules include content to build adolescents’ understanding of a nutritious diet, the importance of avoiding ultra-processed foods and beverages, how to interpret processed food labels and the importance of being physically active.
With the support of UNICEF and other partners, the national Government trained the National Resource Group, a pool of master trainers, to roll out the new modules to public secondary schools nationwide. More than 320,000 teachers, known as ‘Health and Wellness Ambassadors’, have been trained in about 175,000 schools nationwide. Half of these ambassadors are women and responsible for promoting nutritious diets, healthy lifestyles and disease prevention through morning assemblies and classroom activities.
The programme is currently reaching 11 million school children and will be scaled up to all districts of the country by 2025. In addition, approximately 50 million schoolchildren are being reached with nutrition education on micronutrient-rich diets and weekly iron and folic acid supplementation.
Alongside these efforts, the Government of India is taking action to improve food environments within and around schools: regulations issued in 2020 prohibit the marketing or sale of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools and within 50 metres of school premises.