The European Commission today proposed to establish a European Union-wide scheme to provide free fruit and vegetables to school children. European funds worth €90 million every year would pay for the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables to schools, and this money would be matched by national funds in those Member States which chose to make use of the programme. This is the latest stage in the Commission's efforts to improve health and nutrition, as set out in the 'Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity and related health issues'. The School Fruit Scheme aims to encourage good eating habits in young people, which studies show tend to be carried on into later life. Besides providing free fruit and vegetables, the scheme would require participating Member States to set up national strategies including educational and awareness-raising initiatives and the sharing of best practice. An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight. More than 5 million these are obese and this figure is expected to rise by 400,000 every year. Improved nutrition can play an important part in combating this problem. The proposal will now be sent to the Council and European Parliament.
"This proposal shows we're serious about taking concrete steps to fight obesity," said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. "Giving kids good habits at an early age is crucial as they will carry these into later life. Too many of our children eat far too little fruit and vegetables and often don't appreciate how delicious they are. You only have to walk down any high street in Europe to see the extent of the problems we face with overweight kids. Let's do something about it."
The proposal for a School Fruit Scheme follows an undertaking made during the negotiations on the reform of the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables in June 2007. Since then, the Commission has engaged in a wide-ranging public consultation and an in-depth impact assessment of different options.
Experts agree that a healthy diet can play an integral role in reducing obesity rates, and cutting the risk of serious health problems – such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes2– in later life. Key to this is the consumption of sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables. The World Health Organisation recommends a daily net intake of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per person. The majority of Europeans fail to meet this target and the downward trend is particularly evident among the young.
Studies show that healthy eating habits are formed in childhood. People who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables in childhood remain good consumers. Those who eat little tend not to change their ways and also pass on their habits to their own children. Research has also shown that families with a lower level of income tend to consume less fruit and vegetables. As such, the free provision in schools of these healthy products can make a real difference, particularly in underprivileged areas.
Commission analysis of existing national policies and consultations with experts have demonstrated that the benefits of the school scheme can be enhanced if the provision of fruit is accompanied by awareness-raising and educational measures to teach children the importance of good eating habits. Encouragement will also be given to networking between different national authorities which run successful school fruit schemes. These already exist in some EU countries, and take many different forms. But there is much more that can be done and this EU scheme provides a perfect basis to get new programmes off the ground. The Commission is putting on the table €90 million per year for the provision of fruit and vegetables in schools. Governments would have the choice of whether to participate or not. The programmes would be co-financed, either on a 50/50 basis, or 75/25 in the so-called 'convergence regions', where GDP/capita is lower. This money could not be used to replace existing national financing, but would encourage additional activities, be it linked to existing programmes or creating completely new initiatives. And Member States could of course add extra money if they wanted to.
National authorities would have to draw up a national strategy in conjunction with public health and education authorities, also involving the industry and interest groups, tailored of course to national preferences. The programmes would begin at the start of the 2009/2010 school year.
Commissioner Fischer Boel launched the School Fruit Scheme today at an event at the Falkenhausschule, Gross-Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 23, Kehl, Germany. Photographs and video footage is available from: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/ebs/schedule.cfm
Information and documents on the School Fruit Scheme are available on internet at:http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/markets/fruitveg/sfs/index_en.htm