The impact of school health programmes

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Helpdesk Query:

What evidence is there on the impact of school health programmes/initiatives on: enrolment, retention/dropout of students, learning outcomes; health and nutritional benefits of students, families and communities by type of institution?

If possible, break down results by type of institution (primary, secondary, and tertiary) as objectives may vary by age group.


This report focuses on the impact of school health programmes. School health programmes can cover both the prevention and treatment of disease and malnutrition in a school setting (Snilstveit et al 2016). These services are designed to promote students’ physical, cognitive, and social development. Effective school health programmes are broadly considered to be cost-effective. They build on existing health infrastructure and community partnerships, as well as a skilled workforce in schools (UNICEF 2000).

This report focuses on four main areas of impact: enrolment (section 2); retention/dropout of students (section 3); learning outcomes (section 4), and health and nutritional benefits of students, families and communities (section 5). The report is divided into impacts at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels where this information was available, but a lot of the literature focused on schools in general. There was more evidence on school health programmes in primary schools than in secondary schools and very little literature found on the impact of health programmes in tertiary education.

The literature showed that education is a strong predictor of lifelong health and quality of life. Education, health, and social outcomes are very closely interdependent. Success in school and years of schooling are major factors in determining social and occupational status in adulthood and health status throughout life. Poor school performance predicts healthcompromising behaviours and physical, mental, and emotional problems. Poor nutrition, substance abuse, sedentary behaviour, violence, depression, and suicidality compromise school performance. This negative cycle, established during the school years, has profound consequences for the success and productivity of our communities. Schools and the health and nutrition programmes within them are a key part of the solution to this (IDS 2016).

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