More 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.”