Back to School Focus: Providing Free Fruit & Veggies Helps Reduce Childhood Obesity

shutterstock_77073598More than a third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese, a reality that places a heavy burden on both their physical and mental health as they grow into adulthood. As experts nationwide focus their efforts on improving nutrition standards and advocating a healthier lifestyle for American kids, a new study offers hope that we may be on the right track.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas recently looked at the impact of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) on a sample of participating schools in their state. Since the 2008-2009 school year—when the program was first introduced to Arkansas schools—obesity rates have dropped from 20% to 17%. This is a notable decline in a state with some of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country.

The FFVP is a federally assisted program that allows for fresh fruits and vegetables to be provided for students free of charge throughout the school day. Aimed at encouraging smart eating habits in children and promoting long-term health, the program targets elementary schools with the highest free and reduced price enrollment. And, according to study co-author Rodolfo Nayga, it may be one of the simplest and most cost-effective strategies of its kind.

“By this measure, our results suggest that the fresh fruit and vegetable program is a very cost-effective obesity prevention tool,” said Nayga in a recent news release. “Moreover, prevention of childhood obesity is in addition to the other nutritional benefits that come from increased fruit and vegetable consumption.”


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Early Life Stress Affects Gut Microbes, May Lead to Anxiety & Depression

shutterstock_42539698As scientists continue to explore the link between gut bacteria and mental health, Canadian researchers recently discovered that stress in the early stages of life can alter the bacterial population in the gut—which may have lasting implications when it comes to a healthy brain and mood in adulthood.

In a study published online last month in the journal Nature Communications, experts from the Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario revealed that stress in infancy may trigger changes in the developing microbiome, which in turn may increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression later in life.

For the purpose of the study, researchers used two groups of newborn mice: one with normal gut bacteria and one with no gut bacteria. To analyze the effects of early life stress, the mice in both groups were separated from their mothers for a few hours each day for nearly three weeks.

Interestingly, while both groups of mice exhibited elevated stress hormone levels, those with normal gut bacteria displayed anxious or depressed behavior as well as impaired digestive function—symptoms not seen in the mice with no gut bacteria. Lead author Dr. Premysl Bercik and his colleagues believe even small changes in gut bacteria during a child’s early years may have “profound effects” on mood and behavior as an adult.


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