Hunger and Performance in the Classroom

Discussion Paper
23 September 2019

Farzana Afridi,Bidisha Barooah, Rohini Somanathan

Hunger and malnourishment can adversely affect students' performance by lowering their effort and cognition during school hours. We conduct a lab-in-the field experiment, leveraging the extension of India's school meal program from primary to middle grades, to study the effects of school-based supplementary nutrition on students' cognitive effort in the classroom. Using individual level data on the performance of students in a cognitive task both before and after the extension of the program as well as pre and post meal recess on a school day, we find that the provision of meals improved the cognitive performance of students by 13% to 16%. This result is robust to unobserved heterogeneity in school quality and student ability. Our findings suggest that short-term improvements in classroom attention and effort due to school meals can be a mechanism through which longer-term learning outcomes may improve in developing countries.

Sustainable Development Goals

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Publication | 1 May 2020