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Free school fruit scheme questioned

A new study suggests children who are given free fruit while they are at school in a bid to battle obesity may not experience any long-term health benefits.

Under the Department of Health's (DH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme, all four to six-year-olds in state infant, primary and special schools are entitled to receive a free piece of fruit or vegetable every day.

The scheme cost £42m to roll out across England in 2004, and another £77m was spent on maintaining the project over the next two years.

But now a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health is questioning the benefits of the scheme.

Researchers led by Professor Janet Cade from the University of Leeds examined fruit and nutrient intake for 3,700 children from 98 schools in the north of England during 2004.

They found that while the scheme initially boosted fruit intake by half a portion and slightly increased levels of vitamin C, the benefits lapsed after seven months.

When pupils were aged seven to eight, and no longer eligible for free fruit or veg, the benefits could not be seen at all, the authors said.

But a DH spokesman disputed the findings, saying: "This research is based on old information from 2004 as part of the first evaluation of the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.

"This initial study only looked at the impact of the scheme after one term.

"We will shortly be publishing a far more comprehensive evaluation over a longer period of time."

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Department of Health
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"Yes, but I am concerned that it isn't always fresh and strangely often includes carrots and tomatoes. Surely bananas, apples, plums, oranges, grapes are more appropriate" - Name and address supplied