As childhood obesity becomes increasingly common, the EU executive is proposing to allocate €90 million of Community funding per year to help member states finance the distribution of free fruit and vegetables in schools as of autumn 2009.
In addition to co-funding the provision of free fruit and vegetables (F&V), the scheme would require participating countries to introduce a series of accompanying measures to make the scheme effective. Such measures would include educational initiatives on healthy eating to address the issue at the stage when children’s eating habits are formed.
The proposal for a Regulation to set up a school fruit scheme shows “we’re serious about taking concrete steps to fight obesity,” Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will say, presenting the scheme on 8 July 2008. “Giving kids good habits at an early age is crucial as they will carry these into later life,” she believes.
The proposal is part of the new Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables, in place since 1 January 2008. The School Fruit Scheme comes in response to recent estimates according to which some 22 million European children are overweight.
Different school fruit schemes already exist in some European countries, but according to the EU executive “much more” can be done and the EU scheme will help to upgrade existing initiatives as well as “get new programmes off the ground”.
The Commission suggests funding 50% of the national initiatives and 75% of the programmes in the so-called ‘convergence regions’, where GDP per capita is lower.
If the proposal is adopted, EU co-funded distribution of fruit and vegetables would begin at the start of the 2009/2010 school year.
Overall, statistics show that only two of the EU 27, Greece and Italy, currently reach the 400-gram daily intake of F&V recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with the downward trend particularly evident among the young. Meanwhile, experts agree that sufficient consumption of F&V can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, for example.
Recent Eurostat statistics also reveal considerable differences in the amount – and price – of fresh fruit and vegetables available for human consumption in the EU 27. Compared to average EU-27 F&V prices, the cost was about 50% lower in Bulgaria and a third higher in Ireland.
The White Paper on the EU’s strategy on nutrition, overweight and obesity (May 2007) also highlighted the need to encourage the frequency of consumption of fruits and vegetables as a key goal in achieving a healthy diet and tackling obesity.