About The Buzz: Government-Funded Lunch Program Helps to Reduce Childhood Obesity?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) provides funding to the nation’s poorest schools to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, free to students, separate from lunch and breakfast meals. Sounds pretty good, right? The FFVP is doing it’s job pretty well, too: some schools participating in the program have experienced a 15% decrease in obesity rates in their students.1
WHY THIS MATTERS
Obesity rates for children in the United States have steadily risen in recent years. From 1980 to 2008, rates of childhood obesity nearly tripled – from 6.5% to 19.6% – for children ages 6-11 and more than tripled for adolescents ages 12-19 – from 5% to 18.0%.2 At this point in time, a staggering 13 million children and adolescents in the United States are considered obese, having a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile.
One way to prevent and reduce obesity is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In order for a school to participate in the FFVP, they must also participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and at least 50% of students must be eligible for free and reduced cost lunches. The FFVP aims to do just that by ensuring that low-income children going to school in underserved communities have the same level of access to healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables as children attending more affluent schools. The objectives of the FFVP include:
- Create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices;
- Expand the variety of fruits and vegetables available to children;
- Increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption; and
- Make a positive difference in children’s diets to impact their present and future health
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the FFVP, the USDA funded a study to compare rates of obesity in schoolchildren who had been participating in the FFVP to rates of obesity in schoolchildren who attended schools not participating in the FFVP. The study took place in Arkansas, a state with one of the highest childhood obesity rates (37.5% for children ages 10-17 in 2007). In addition, Arkansas was the first state to require the measurement and collection of BMI for public schoolchildren starting in 2004. Students from kindergarten, 2nd and 4th grades were included in the study.
The results of the study are promising: not only does the FFVP help improve children’s diets, but this evaluation showed a substantial decrease in rates of obesity. Among the low-income FFVP included in the study, the school-level obesity rate is around 20%. By participating in the FFVP, rates of obesity dropped from 20% to 17%, which translates to a 15% reduction in overall obesity rates for these schools.
Successful programs in schools, such as the school lunch program and the FFVP, are helping to reduce childhood obesity in the United States. A home environment that encourages children to consume fruits and vegetables on a daily basis must complement these programs. The USDA guidelines encourage children to consume half a plate of fruits and vegetables, but children eat about half the amount they need.3 Obese adolescents have an 80% chance of becoming obese adults, placing them at a higher risk for health problems throughout life.4 Given the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables and their ability to reduce overweight and obesity in youth, we encourage parents to find ways to incorporate more servings of fruits and vegetables into their children’s diet. For fun, creative and practical ways to do so, check out our suggestions below. A good starting goal is to aim to fill half your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables during every meal and snack.
7 Ways Add More Fruits & Veggies to Your Child’s Diet
- Experiment with kid-friendly recipes.
- Include your child in shopping trips or plan a Take Your Child to the Supermarket Day.
- Make cooking fun! Pretend you’re preparing dinner at restaurant and let your child be the chef for a night.
- Pack school lunches with amusing snacks.
- Take a trip to the farmers’ market and encourage your child to try one new fruit or vegetable each trip (check out the farmers’ market directory to find one close to you!).
- Try the P.A.C.K. 5-day program, a free resource for parents aimed at encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Have a specific question regarding your child’s diet? Ask the expert.
Video Center: Selection. Storage. Preparation.
How Many Cups Do You Need?
Key Nutrients in Fruits & Vegetables
Fruit & Veggie Database