The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program can now be called a documented success.

Starting out as a limited pilot in the 2002 farm bill, the $160 million per year program now distributes fruits and vegetables to students in thousands of schools in all 50 states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on March 28 announced the results of an evaluation of the program, and he said the report shows children will make the right choice if given a chance.

According to the USDA’s evaluation, the program increased students’ fruit and vegetable consumption by about one-third of a cup per day, or about 15%. Improving the diet of young Americans is important. Vilsack said one-third of children today are obese or at risk of being obese.

Besides the success of the program in boosting fruit and vegetable consumption and nutrition education, it is genuinely appreciated by students, parents and school staff. The USDA’s evaluation said 85% of participating school foodservice directors and staff, principals, teachers, students and parents reported a positive opinion of the program, and a whopping 97% of students want it to continue in their schools.

Even in a tight federal budget environment, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is a needed investment for the current and future health of the next generation.

The nearly 400-page evaluation report is bound to yield best practices for schools that would seek to make the program even more effective.

Even better, lawmakers and industry lobbyists who have championed the program will now be able to point to this report to help keep the program front and center in farm bill priorities.

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