A third of children have no free access to fruit or vegetables at school

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Around a third of pre-school and primary school pupils did not have free access to fruit or vegetables at school during the past school year, according to a study on children’s eating habits.

The conclusion comes from a study carried out by the Environmental Health Institute (ISAMB) of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, in partnership with the Portuguese Association Against Childhood Obesity (APCOI).

Of the 21,773 pupils surveyed, aged between 2 and 13 and from 586 schools that took part in the “Heróis da Fruta” food education initiative, around 35% did not have access to fruit or vegetables distributed free of charge at school.

There are areas of the country where the lack of free access to these foods is more acute, especially Portalegre, a district where fruit and vegetables were distributed free of charge to only 13.3% of classes.

On the other hand, in areas such as Madeira, Braga and Viseu, the overwhelming majority of students (over 80%) had free access.

Even so, Raquel Martins, nutritionist and researcher at ISAMB, says that although free access promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables, it is not decisive in increasing it.

An example of this are the schools in the district of Beja, where children significantly increased their daily consumption of fruit and vegetables over the course of the school year, despite this also being one of the regions with the least free access.

“In addition to the food on offer, specific actions are needed to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables in schools,” says the researcher, quoted in a press release.

This is the aim of the “Fruit Heroes” initiative, in which more than 81,000 pupils took part in the 2022/2023 school year, with an impact on improving children’s eating habits.

According to the results, the percentage of pupils who brought unhealthy snacks to school every day fell by 54.8% between the beginning and end of the school year. On the other hand, the percentage of children who consumed at least one portion of fruit or vegetables every day at school rose from 73.7% to 88.2% nationally in just five weeks.

“During this edition of the ‘Heróis da Fruta’ school challenge, almost half of the children (48.5%) consumed a fruit or vegetable for the first time that they had never tried before,” says the report.

In some schools, the picture at the beginning and end of the school year was very different. In the Azores, the percentage of children who reported not eating fruit or vegetables every day at school fell from 40.8% to 6.6%. In Évora and Vila Real there was also a reduction of 20 percentage points, while in Beja the difference was 10 points.

Of the 698 classes that had access to fruit or vegetables distributed free of charge at school, the majority made use of the European School Fruit Scheme.

There were also schools that used their own funds or those of the parents’ association, others that benefited from the local food bank or direct support from local authorities.

According to the president of APCOI, the “Heróis da Fruta” initiative has helped improve the eating habits of more than 660,000 children since 2011.

“In the last edition, the ‘Heróis da Fruta’ project saw a record turnout of over 80,000 students and reached 70% of Portuguese municipalities. This school year we want to take the initiative even further,” said Mário Silva.

Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi
Moti Shabi

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