Rural students in China have grown taller and stronger on average over the past decade thanks to a nutrition improvement plan providing daily nutritious lunches to rural primary and middle school students, according to the Ministry of Education.
Based on surveys of students in some 700 counties during the past 10 years, 13-year-old males have seen the most growth in height and weight over the decade, with an average height of 7.5 centimeters taller and an average added weight of 6.6 kilograms from 2012 to 2021.
Twelve-year-old female students who experienced the most growth had added an average of 6.3 cm in height and 5.8 kg in weight in 2021 compared to average levels by 2012.
The survey found the growth retardation rate of students aged 6 to 15 dropped to 2.3 percent in 2021, down by 5.7 percentage points from 2012.
While the obesity rate of rural students reached 18.7 percent last year, it is 7.8 percentage points lower than the national average.
The anemia rate also dropped from 16.7 percent in 2012 to 12 percent in 2021, while students in western regions have seen a bigger drop in this area.
The surveys also found that rural students have more access to meat, vegetables and dairy products, and more schools have built their own canteens.
The surveys were conducted by the national rural compulsory education student nutrition improvement plan working group and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Ministry of Education, more than 350 million students in 123,800 rural primary and middle schools had benefited from the plan by the end of last year.
To make sure rural students have more nutrition, the meal standards have been raised from 3 yuan ($0.40) to 5 yuan per student per day.
Li Ming, principal of Daping Primary School in Xiji county in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, said that in the past there was no canteen in the school and it was very inconvenient for students to have lunch.
Since the initiative was implemented 10 years ago, students have been able to enjoy nutritious meals at school and as a result, they have grown taller and healthier, he told People's Daily.
At the No 11 Primary School in Tongren city, Guizhou province, the school canteen displays daily lunch menus, which include three dishes, a soup, a piece of fruit and milk.
The province has upgraded its nutrition improvement plan to make sure students can eat healthier and more nutritious meals at school.