SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program has increased fresh produce consumption by 15% for kids in participating schools, according to an analysis of the program.
click image to zoomTom QuaifeAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks with a shopper at a Sioux Falls, S.D., Hy-Vee store, March 28, after announcing the results of a U.S. Department of Agriculture study on a snack program that brings fresh fruits and vegetables to schools.Speaking at a Hy-Vee supermarket, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the results of a 398-page evaluation of the program, heralding the gain in consumption as a key part of the agency’s effort to improve access to healthy foods. A summary of the report is also available.
The program provides a fresh fruit or vegetable snack to students during the school day as a supplement to the school breakfast and lunch programs.
Vilsack said when given a choice, 97% of participating students tried fruits and 84% tried vegetables.
“If given a chance, youngsters will make the right choice,” he said.
Vilsack said the program is just one step the USDA has taken in recent years to promote healthy eating in schools.
“One-third of our children today are obese or at risk of being obese,” he said said.
Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del., said the students’ 15% increase in consumption is significant.
The study showed children ate 2.39 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, compared with 2.07 cups for students at schools not participating in the program.
“I think it really did show that if you offer it, kids will eat it,” said Tracy Fox, president of Washington, D.C.-based Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants.
Fox was also encouraged about the higher level of nutrition education at participating schools.
Industry leaders were pleased the evaluation, mandated by Congress through the 2008 farm bill, confirmed what they have seen in participating schools over the past 10 years.
“We have seen with our own eyes for so many years that the program is working, so this is a pretty incredible day that what you have seen for all these years is confirmed with a comprehensive, scientific study,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association.
“The results clearly demonstrate that the (program) increases kids’ fruit and vegetable consumption, increasing them to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and it is very popular with schools and with parents and with kids,”she said.