Government backs school fruit & veg plan

The Czech government has taken a cue from the European Union and backed a school fruit & veg scheme to try and get schoolchildren to eat healthier, more balanced diets. Under the programme, largely funded by the EU, students can receive fruit or vegetables at least once a month.

Obesity among Czech children over recent years has become an alarming problem and the government is hoping it will be able to help at least somewhat with its new school fruit & veg programme. The plan, supported by the EU, will come both from the Czech state budget (20 million crowns) and from EU funds (53 million crowns) and will introduce fruit and vegetables for children at least once a month at participating schools. The country’s Agriculture Minister Jakub Šebesta said the following on Czech Radio on Monday:

“The thing that is binding will be to offer fruit and vegetables at least once a month and in all likelihood it will probably more often than that. It will depend on how schools organise distribution, which items they opt for, and how they will get the fruit to the children. The aim of the project is to try and get kids used to a balanced diet.”

Obesity among children of school age has risen markedly since the fall of Communism, from three percent among school kids – then - to fifteen percent today. But not everyone is convinced that a school fruit scheme is the answer and some are clearly against. A little earlier I spoke to Dr Alexandra Moravcová, a Prague-based specialist on child obesity.

“What I’ve seen so far is very vague and it’s difficult to judge how the programme will work: we don’t know how often or even at what time of day children will receive the fruit – all important factors. On the whole if a child receives an apple or two a month it’s not going to be any great help. It would be more fitting to put the money into physical education. As it is, I am very sceptical this will be good for anything.”

Dr Moravcová points out children at most schools already have healthier options on the menu and even there better results are lacking.

“If you talk to the people in the school cafeteria you learn that kids have options but that they just won’t choose the salad tray over something else. That means that what’s really needed is education and to get parents involved. The process has to be from the bottom-up and an apple a month given by the school won’t help.”

Other experts, however, have welcomed the government’s plan, saying it can make a difference, at least in raising awareness; simply, that child obesity is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.