Study: Program to Provide Students Fresh Fruits and Vegetables at School Linked to Higher Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Mar 29, 2013, 10:00 ET from Abt Associates

BETHESDA, Md., March 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A government program to improve the overall diet of elementary school children by providing fresh fruits and vegetables has helped to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables that students eat, a study conducted by Abt Associates on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service found.

Abt Associates researchers examined the USDA's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which reimburses selected elementary schools with high rates of free and reduced-price meal enrollment for providing students with fresh fruits and vegetables during  the day, outside of school breakfast and lunch meals. They looked at whether the program increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and led to other changes in diet, such as eating fewer foods that are less nutritious. The study also examined how the program has been implemented in participating schools. 

Students in schools that participated in FFVP ate one-third of a cup more fruits and vegetables than students who were in comparable schools that did not participate in the program. The researchers found that students who were in schools that participated in the program had more positive attitudes about fruits and vegetables. There was no statistically significant difference in total energy intake – or the number of calories consumed – between students in FFVP and non-FFVP schools, nor any evidence of differences in student consumption of other types of food.

"The increase in school children eating fruits and vegetables is important because children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables," said Susan Bartlett, a principal associate at Abt and the report's lead author. "This study shows that this program is making a difference in reaching students who are most in need."

The USDA encourages schools to implement FFVP two or more times per week, and the researchers found that 94 percent of FFVP schools reported doing so. Forty-one percent of FFVP schools provide fresh fruits and vegetables five days a week. In addition, researchers found that schools reported serving, on average, six different fruits or vegetables each week.  A majority of schools in the program (88 percent) provided nutrition education sometime during the prior month.  In contrast, only 59 percent of non-FFVP schools provided nutrition education in the prior month.

Additional research is needed to better understand the mechanisms by which the program affects fruit and vegetable consumption, the researchers conclude.

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About Abt Associates  
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators.  The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in nearly 40 countries.

SOURCE Abt Associates