Students at elementary schools participating in USDA's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program consumed 15 percent more fruits and vegetables, based on an agriculture department study that has been released.
The study, conducted by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, found that fruit and vegetable consumption increased by a third of a cup among students participating in the program, compared to nonparticipating students. Increased consumption of fruit accounted for most of the change. The increase in fruit and vegetable consumption through the program doesn't appear to substantially increase calories in children's diets.
"These results are very encouraging," Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said. "The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is clearly an excellent way to introduce students to more fruits and vegetables."
Almost all students tried the fruit and vegetable snacks (97 percent and 84 percent of students, respectively), and a substantial majority ate most or all of the snacks provided (86 percent and 61 percent, respectively), he said. The report describes findings from the evaluation conducted during the 2010-2011 school year.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is popular among schools, students and parents, and effective in increasing children's fruit and vegetable consumption.
Begun as a pilot in 2002, the program aims to increase fresh produce consumption among students in the nation's poorest elementary schools by providing free fresh fruits and vegetables to students outside of regular school meals. The pilot was converted into a nationwide program in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the Farm Bill.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is part of a package of USDA programs and initiatives designed to combat child hunger and obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation's children, a top priority for the Obama administration.
USDA recently announced proposed new standards to ensure that children K-12 have access to healthy food options. The "Smart Snacks in School" proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on February 8, 2013, is the first step in the process to create national standards mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.