Europe to tackle obesity with €90m School Fruit Scheme

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 9th July 2008

The European Commission yesterday 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.

The Commission has already created a ‘Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity and related health issues’ and this is the latest stage in the attempt to deal with obesity.

The School Fruit Scheme aims to encourage good eating habits in young people and the concept is based on studies that show good early eating habits tend to be carried on into later life. Research has also shown that families with a lower level of income tend to consume less fruit and vegetables. As such, the Commission believe free provision in schools of these healthy products could make a real difference, particularly in underprivileged areas.

“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.”

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. Without suitable education they believe the scheme will have only a limited effect.

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 type 2 diabetes – 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, while the ideology of five vegetables and two fruit servings a day is also a popular suggestion. The majority of Europeans fail to either target, and studies suggest the downward trend is particularly evident among the young.

An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight, with more than 5 million of these 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.

The move by the EU showcases the concern about obesity which has been felt worldwide, and is symbolic of trends for legislation to tackle the issue. America has, in some areas, witnessed the banning of trans fats and the requirement of calorie counts on menu boards, while Australia is set to embark on a new health strategy following the release of a report by the National Preventative Health Taskforce later this year. Additionally, many food manufacturers have begun to adapt to the changing marketplace by looking at boosting the nutritional content of their products.

The scheme is expected to begin at the start of the 2009/2010 European school year.