Sometimes simple things can make a big difference to health. Who would think that a simple piece of fruit each day could help eliminate a common ailment in schoolkids?
That's what's happened at Holy Cross School in Papatoetoe in the past few years. According to Principal Bruce Young, cases of impetigo (school sores) have all but disappeared in his students since the Fruit & Vegetables in Schools (FIS) programme was introduced several years ago.
Although there's no proven link, it seems reasonable that the immune- and health-boosting properties of fruit and vegetables have contributed to better health among kids, and less likelihood of picking up infections like impetigo or other illnesses.
"A child who may have no fruit in a week now gets five or more servings a week," says Young.
"Over 40 weeks, that's a lot of fruit and vegetables. If you look at it that way, the children are far better off."
The FIS programme is funded by the Ministry of Health and run by United Fresh, in tandem with its 5+ A Day charity. The initiative provides daily fresh fruit and vegetables to children in low-decile primary and intermediate schools. More than 100,000 children benefit from this each year, to the tune of over 24 million servings handed out at 550 schools. The programme also offers resources to schools to help kids learn about healthy eating.
While feeding hungry children remains the number one benefit of FIS, Smith says there's so much more: kids are more engaged at school and they learn about health and nutrition.
"Handing out a crisp carrot or juicy orange helps fill young bellies and provides support to parents who are struggling to feed their families on low incomes."
Research on FIS shows Kiwi parents and school principals love the programme and there's a strong desire for it to be expanded. With funding due to roll over this year, 88 per cent of parents surveyed wanted FIS to continue. Three quarters said their children now eat more fruit at home because it's handed out at school. Eighty per cent of parents said they'd like to see the initiative extended to all decile three primary and intermediate schools.
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Principals agree; 83 per cent believe the overall health of their children would decline if FIS came to an end.
With wellbeing being a stated goal of our government, along with improving health inequities, here's a simple intervention that deals with both. Coupled with the just-announced school lunches programme, it's possible a real meaningful difference can be made.
Imagine the potential benefits of these plus Garden to Table in every school in the country? Kids would not only get the benefit of healthy food every day, they'd also learn how to grow and prepare healthy, plant-packed meals for themselves and their future families. It would be a small but powerful investment in the long-term wellbeing of our nation.
• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.com