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EU to help school kids fight the flab - 28/08/2008

Children eating fruit in a playground

New plans to give free fruit and vegetables to schoolchildren – and extend the range of dairy products already available.

An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight. More than 5 million are obese – and it gets worse: the figure is expected to rise by around 400 000 every year.

Eating habits formed in childhood are usually carried over into adulthood and then passed on to the next generation. Most Europeans already eat too little fruit and veg – less than the 400g a day recommended by the World Health Organisation – and consumption is declining among younger generations. With this in mind, the commission has a new plan to encourage healthy eating among children.

Starting in 2009 the commission would like to use EU money to distribute free fruit and vegetables to schools. Studies suggest that poorer families are least likely to eat the recommended five portions of fresh fruit or veg a day. Providing healthy snacks free of charge could make a real difference to needy youngsters’ diets.

The costs will be shared 50-50 between the EU budget and national governments (75-25 for less affluent countries). The EU contribution will total around €90m a year.

Similar schemes for milk have been operating for over 30 years now. In the 2006-07 school year, 305 000 tonnes of milk was distributed to schools in 22 EU countries.

The commission would now like to extend the scheme to include other dairy products, including cheeses, yoghurt and buttermilk. Secondary schools would also be eligible for deliveries under the new plan. As the number of schools covered goes up, more and more children will be encouraged to opt for healthy, high-quality dairy products instead of low-quality convenience food and drinks.

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