U.S. Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program: A Win for Children, Schools, Public Health and Agriculture
The goal of the United States Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) is to increase low-income elementary school student’s fruit and vegetable consumption by providing a free fresh fruit and vegetable snack to all students every day. The FFVP, started as a pilot in 2002, became a national program in 2008. The FFVP is currently implemented in more than 4,600 elementary schools; benefiting over three million children every day. For the last 10 years the FFVP has become a model for increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption and a catalyst for creating healthier school food environments.
Designed to Address Public Health Priorities
The FFVP was designed to address two major US public health priorities: (1) American children were eating less than 50% of the fruits and vegetables recommended for good health by the US Dietary Guidelines; and (2) the US has a childhood obesity epidemic.
Children in low-income households are more likely to have the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables and be at the greatest risk of poor health outcomes; therefore increasing fruit and vegetable intake in this population and improving their overall dietary habits, is likely to confer the greatest long-term health benefits. As an environmental change, the FFVP increases availability and access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the school environment, exposes children to a wide variety of nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables in a positive setting, serves as a model for other school-based Wellness Policies and improves fruit and vegetable consumption at school lunch.
The 2008 US Farm Bill provided $1.2 Billion for the FFVP. Public Health and produce industry organizations collaborated together to ensure that US Agricultural policy, as established in our Farm Bills, began to align with US public health policy. Currently, the US Congress is debating the 2012 Farm Bill. Therefore, a top nutrition policy priority is to protect the funding and integrity of the FFVP, especially in these times of budget deficits.
One of the hallmarks of the US FFVP is that only fresh fruits and vegetables can be provided to students as snacks. Each individual elementary school decides what fresh fruits and vegetables to serve and where to purchase them and many schools purchase from local growers when in season. Elementary schools apply to participate in the FFVP (because national funding is not adequate yet to support all low-income elementary schools); the application process ensures that schools are committed to effective implementation. Schools receive $50-75/student/year to provide the fresh fruit and vegetable snack daily. The United States Department of Agriculture administers the FFVP. FFVP funding is in high demand; many more elementary schools would participate if additional funding was available.
The FFVP increased the average fruit and vegetable consumption by 15% in participating schools, according to an independent evaluation conducted by Abt Associates during SY’2010-11. The FFVP did not increase total caloric intake, suggesting that the increased fruit and vegetable consumption replaced consumption of other less nutrient dense foods. School officials have also noted that the FFVP has been effective in decreasing student purchases of soda, chips and candy. It has also increased fruit and vegetable consumption in the school lunch program, improved cognition, lengthened attention spans, and seen fewer visits by students to the school nurse. Parents have noted the positive influence the FFVP has on family eating habits, including children requesting specific fruits and vegetables to be served at home for meals and snacks.
National Focus on Improving Children’s Fruit and Vegetable
Consumption and Eating Habits
In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! initiative to reduce childhood obesity in the next 10 years. One of the main goals of Let’s Move! is to increase children’s fruit and vegetable intake, both in school nutrition programs and family meals and snacks. The First Lady’s leadership has resulted in new nutrition standards that will double the amount of fruits and vegetables served daily at school lunch. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, another Let’s Move! initiative, is demonstrating that school salad bars are another effective strategy to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Doubling fruit and vegetable consumption among America’s children’s will require many school-based and community-based environmental and Policy changes. The FFVP is one of those effective environmental strategies.