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The importance of increase fruit and vegetable consumption in children (and their families)
Increasing fruit and vegetables consumption in children is one of the major issue in the field of nutritional education programmes worldwide and several projects have been developed with this aim. Most of the approaches have used the school as a main setting, while a few approaches have also included the family. Some of the programmes have offered free fruit, while some others have asked for an active contribution by the families. Many of these programmes have used an educational and healthy approach, but very few, if any, have used an emotional approach, insisting on the pleasure of a healthy eating.
Many of the projects have been directed to primary school age children and only a few toward younger children. Some of the programmes have used what is called “accessory measures” which have been demonstrated as being important in improving children’s fruit and vegetables intake. All of these research approaches have resulted in positive outcome at different rate of success, but none of them has shown substantial positive long lasting results. Thus, we have to understand that while we are doing something positive in this field, we need to substantially improve our approach.
In general the distribution of F&V at schools, coupled to accompanying measures, is a positive initiative to start children to become used the taste of fruit and vegetables. In Europe this initiative has been in place for a few years, but there is no long term data yet, and where there is data it has not been gathered uniformly in each European country. While the preliminary data we do have in Europe is encouraging, it will be important over the longer term to find the tools necessary to ensure the mandatory monitoring of activities to enable analysis and continual programme improvement.
We probably need to apply some of the procedures taken from all the already performed projects and create a new whole approach programme. What we really need to do is to create in our children the emotional pleasure of eating fruit and vegetables, including all the actors present in a child’s life such as parents, teachers, friends and lifestyle models. This is because a behaviour built only on knowledge – such as the nutritional education based on the content of nutrients – hardly lasts over the longer term.
Last, but probably the most important aspect if we want to modify children’s behaviours, is that we need to start since infancy to create the “customer fidelity” to a healthy eating.