In a nutritional surveillance system of primary school children in England and Scotland we assessed the possible effects on height gain of changes in school meals and school milk policies following the 1980 Education Act (No. 2). Mean height and height gain were estimated separately for English and Scottish samples from 1982 to 1984, and for a selective sample of inner city areas with a high proportion of ethnic minorities from 1983 to 1985 in children from 5.00 to 9.99 years. Children receiving free school meals were smaller than children paying for school meals or receiving a meal prepared elsewhere, while children receiving free school milk were of similar stature to other children in the study. The rate of growth was assessed in children receiving school meals or lunches prepared at home, and in those for whom arrangements changed during the study period; it was also assessed in those children for whom school milk was available, not available, or for whom the provision changed. No consistent association was found between provision of school meals or school milk and the rate of growth in the three samples studied when stratified according to poverty status and ethnic background. We conclude that this observational study does not provide any evidence that the current availability of school meals or school milk increases the rate of growth of primary school children in any social stratum.
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