A Looming Hunger Crisis Among School Children Due to COVID-19

Holt’s nutrition program director shares why COVID-19 is increasing hunger among school-age children around the world. 

When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, hunger was already present in many of the communities where Holt works. For many children, it was common for them to miss meals or go days without food.

In almost all of the countries where Holt works, sponsors and donors support children to go to school and for those schools to provide a balanced and nutritious meal for every child. For many of the children in Holt programs, this was their one nutritious meal of the day.

But then COVID-19 hit, closing schools across the globe. What was already a big problem has now became a crisis.

Many children around the world are still not attending school, are attending at intermittent times or trying to access school through mobile phones. Globally, these school closures have resulted in children missing 39 billion meals they would have received at school (UNICEF, 2021). On average, children have missed 40% of their in-school meals since COVID-19 has closed schools. The lack of food is crippling to the children and families who relied on this steady source of essential daily nutrients.

An entire generation of children are at risk. When children are hungry, it impacts every aspect of their lives. They can’t grow. They get sick more often. They can’t learn and they start to fall farther and farther behind in school. Many children are now dropping out of school entirely because incentives like a quality meal are no longer available.

A child in Holt sponsorship and his mom sit beside emergency supplies they received to help them get through months of lockdown due to COVID-19 in India.
A child in Holt sponsorship and his mom sit beside emergency supplies they received to help them get through months of lockdown in India.

The lack of meals has been further compounded by closures of businesses, health and nutrition programs, and work opportunities for families. Food prices have skyrocketed, doubling or tripling in some places. In some communities, nutritious food is not even available.

Without food, these vulnerable children are at greater risk of everything from early marriage to forced sex work, child labor and other detrimental consequences. An estimated 24 million children are at risk of dropping out of school due to the pandemic (UNICEF, 2021).

To address this need, Holt has adapted our school meal programs in many countries to provide food assistance directly to families. With the generous support of  sponsors and donors, our teams on the ground have delivered school meals to be eaten at home and provided direct cash transfers to help families buy groceries. They have ramped up nutrition screenings, micronutrient distributions, parasite treatments and prenatal vitamin campaigns. They are also providing more iron supplements, and distributing more seedlings to help families grow food at home.

But as schools begin to reopen, we need your help to ensure that children’s basic nutritional needs are met. We need your assistance to not only provide a healthy daily meal to every child in need of one, but to screen these children for malnutrition. And if we discover malnutrition, to provide critical supplements — ensuring every child in every community can survive this ongoing global crisis.

Emily DeLacey MS, RDN, LDN is a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and a PhD candidate with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has been the director of Holt’s nutrition program since 2016 and has managed nutrition intervention and behavior change programming in more than 15 countries. She is passionate about advocating for the nutritional needs of children and families.


Help a child in need receive healthy meals by providing the supplies they need to stay in school! Your gift will help a child safely return to school or receive nutritional support at home while in quarantine due to COVID-19. 

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