New Zealand’s most successful and effective school-based nutrition initiative, Fruit and Vegetables in Schools (FIS), has resumed for the year, with 25m servings of fresh fruit and vegetables to be provided to 123,000 children and staff across 553 of the country’s lowest decile schools.
Funded by the Ministry of Health, FIS is managed by United Fresh and supported by the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust.
This year marks the 15th year of operation for FIS, after a pilot programme in 2004 proved successful. Under the programme, each child and staff member are given one piece of fresh, seasonal produce to eat with their classmates daily.
Jerry Prendergast, president of United Fresh, said a recent external evaluation of FIS found the initiative reaches more low decile schools than any other food and nutrition health promotion initiative in New Zealand.
“It improves both health and education outcomes by ensuring all students have access to healthy food. Children who are hungry struggle to concentrate and learn so this is an ideal way to improve their overall wellbeing. The initiative is highly valued by children, principals, teachers and whānaualike,” explained Prendergast.
Nine out of ten participating school principals said FIS helps create a sense of equality between students regardless of their family circumstances, and that it’s an effective way of promoting a healthy school environment by removing stigma.
According to 94 per cent of principals, the programme increases students’ knowledge about the nutrition and health of fruit consumption, while 96 per cent said it promotes positive attitudes towards eating fruit and vegetables.
“Principals report their students are more engaged with school (58 per cent), there are fewer cases of school sores/skin infections (30 per cent) and dental health/hygiene outcomes have improved (28 per cent) as a result of having fresh fruit and vegetables in schools,” said Prendergast.
The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust provides free curriculum-linked resources to help promote healthy eating and teach students how to grow their own produce.
“Over the 15 years this initiative has become embedded into the curriculum and school life and we sincerely hope the current Government continues to invest in this initiative. We are instilling healthy eating habits for a whole generation of Kiwis which will have enormous benefits in the long-run,” he added.
Funding for FIS is currently linked to a 12-month term, with the current contract up for renewal mid-year. Prendergast said the initiative provided an excellent and affordable way to achieve key wellbeing and equity goals the government have set.
An external evaluation of FIS, carried out by Quigley and Watts in mid-2018, also found widespread support among parents who notice flow-on benefits at home.
Three quarters of parents surveyed (76 per cent) said their child ate more fruit because of FIS and almost half (47 per cent) ate more vegetables. Over one third of families (39 per cent) said the whole family now eats more fruit and about a quarter (27 per cent) eat more vegetables.