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EU sees results of EUR 90 million school fruit scheme

Encouraging healthy eating habits from an early age is the idea behind the EU-funded School Fruit Scheme, which, according to the latest report, benefited 8,146,290 children from 54,267 schools during 2010/11 (a rise of 70 % compared with 2009/10). In addition, there was increased demand from the previous year on fruit and vegetables to the order of 43,730 tonnes within the EU-24 Member States. The annual expenditure of EUR 90 million is part of an ongoing campaign to tackle the EU-wide crisis of childhood obesity. Despite only running for three years, an evaluation report has been published showing the effect of the campaign up to now.

The scheme is focused on reducing the number of children in the EU who are overweight. The figure stands at 22 million (with 5.1 million obese). It has been estimated that with the current EU trend, another 1.2 million children could be overweight each year with 300,000 obese. Scientific research has shown overweight problems occur more frequently at a young age. These figures have been connected to a declining consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by young people and people of lower socioeconomic background. Damaging eating habits are partially to blame for the skyrocketing rise of major chronic diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

On an international comparison of consumption, many European countries are considerably below the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends consuming a minimum of 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day. The volume of the EU fruit and vegetables market has shown a declining trend in the last decade which suggests that consumption rates are even decreasing. The School Fruit Scheme is addressing this issue and hoping to change this statistic. The scheme started in the school year of 2009/2010 after the Agriculture Council of Ministers agreed on a Commission proposal for a European Union-wide campaign to provide fruit and vegetables to school children. The target group was initially aimed at school children aged 1 to 18, but many Member States have mainly targeted children aged 6 to 10.

It was also noted in the report that a wide range of produce was an important element in the success factor of the initiative. Usually, at least 5 to 10 different products are offered to encourage children to explore different tastes and textures of fruit and vegetables. Preferred fruits were apples, oranges and bananas, and carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers for vegetables. The impact of having a variety had Member States agreeing that the more options of fruit and vegetables offered the increased probability that th School Fruit Scheme will have a sustainable impact on the children's nutritional behaviour. The free distribution of fruit and vegetables was also identified as a success factor in the evaluation analysis, as well as educational and awareness-raising initiatives such as farm visits and cooking sessions.

The majority of Member States ad also observed a positive impact of the scheme on children's fruit and vegetable consumption and indicated an increase of consumption beyond the fruit and vegetables distributed to the children. The programme has been significant, in particular, for disadvantaged children from a lower socioeconomic background. Susanne Løgstrup, Chair of the European Public Health and Agriculture Consortium (EPHAC), says: 'These are certainly positive developments to draw on. The EU's School Fruit Scheme presents an excellent model. It demonstrates that public investment pays off by promoting healthy living in those for whom we should care the most - our children.' She goes on to say: 'The EU School Fruit Scheme is a shining example of health in all policies and demonstrates the benefits of synergies between policy areas like agriculture and public health.' In its CAP2020 reform proposals, the Commission proposes to further strengthen the School Fruit Scheme by raising the overall EU budget available, increasing the rates of co-financing and extending the list of eligible measures. This will enable even more children to reap the benefits of this healthy eating initiative.


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