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Participating children more often choose fruits and vegetables

Germany: Study shows effectiveness of the NRW school fruit program

How to get primary school students to consume more fruits and vegetables? School fruit programs can actually help to achieve this goal, scientists from the University of Bonn and the University of Koblenz-Landau have found. If children receive fruit and vegetables free of charge in their schools several times a week, they consume considerably more of this food group -which is often not so popular among children- even on days without fruit distribution at school. The results will now be presented in the Journal Public Health Nutrition.

If fruit and vegetables are distributed free of charge in elementary schools, students will actually pick them. "The frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption of the participating children increases significantly," says Julia Haß, a doctoral student at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics (ILR) of the University of Bonn. The study also provided initial indications that participation in the school fruit program can positively influence the nutritional habits of children in the long term. "The participating students consumed fruit and vegetables much more frequently, even on days without free school fruit," reports Prof. Dr. Monika Hartmann from the ILR.

Overall, the two researchers from the University of Bonn surveyed more than 800 third- and fourth-graders at twelve North Rhine-Westphalian elementary schools. The data from these 664 children could then be used for an evaluation by Prof. Dr. Tanja Lischetzke from the Department of Psychology of the University of Koblenz-Landau. The students were divided into three groups: one group of children received school fruit and vegetables three days a week, another group on two days and the control group did not participate in the school fruit program at all. Before the study began and again after one year, students completed questionnaires about the food and drink consumed the day before and about their nutritional knowledge. In order to be able to reliably measure the average frequency of consumption of fruit and vegetables, the survey was repeated twice at each measurement time.

Children at all-day schools benefit more
In the groups that received fruit three and even two school days a week, the frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption of the children was significantly increased after one year. "However, there was a tendency for children who use the all-day schools to benefit more from school fruit deliveries," says Julia Hass. However, this effect applies only to the tests with two school fruit hand-outs per week. It can be justified by the fact that what fruit and vegetables would remain from the before noon would be consumed somewhere in the afternoon. All-day school students therefore had more opportunity to get these fruits and vegetables. With three school fruit hand-outs a week, on the other hand, all children benefit on a comparable scale as the schools distributed leftover fruit and vegetables to the classes the following morning.

"In principle, the EU School Fruit and Vegetable Program is a useful nutritional measure to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption of primary school children," Julia Hass concludes. The distribution of school fruit only on two days a week appears attractive at first sight, as more children could be reached with the same budget. Nevertheless, this option must also be viewed critically, as not all participating children are supported to the same extent. At least, a further reduction in the distribution frequency should be carefully considered, according to the scientists. In order to be able to make reliable statements on the long-term effects of school fruit schemes, further studies would have to be carried out. Furthermore, with regard to the prevention of obesity, the overall nutritional behavior beyond the fruit and vegetable consumption should be taken into account, according to the researchers.

The EU promotes school fruit and vegetable programs
The European Union has been providing financial support for school fruit schemes since 2009. The aim is to increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption and thereby contribute to the development of a healthy lifestyle. North Rhine-Westphalia is one of seven federal states that participated from the beginning and is supporting the program through state funds. The strategy for the country's schools initially envisaged the distribution of fruit and vegetables five times a week. In order to enable more schools to participate, it was decided from school year 2012/13 to reduce the distribution to three days per school week. The exact implementation of the program is up to the schools, but extra nutritional education is required.

Source: Uni Bonn

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