Schools key to increasing fruit and veg consumption

Policy makers should promote fruit and vegetable consumption in schools by making it a requirement that two portions of vegetables are included in each meal.

The call was made in new research into how UK policymakers can boost fruit and vegetable production and consumption. Researchers suggested that England’s school food standards should be strengthened to require that two portions of vegetables are included in each meal as is already the case in Scotland.

They also urged policy makers to increase the volume of fruit and vegetables served at snack times and mealtimes as part of a suite of measures to increase consumption.

The research was carried out by the SHEFS (Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems) consortium, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The latest paper is the fourth of four briefings on fruit and vegetables: previous briefings showed how a considerable proportion of fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK are imported from countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Researchers found that increasing intake to five-a-day, while reducing meat and sugar consumption, would lead to significant health and environment benefits.

They also concluded that land-use changes associated with a shift to diets containing more vegetables and less meat could result in gains to biodiversity in the UK.

SHEFS called on the UK government to fully implement policies announced in the 2020 obesity strategy to encourage businesses to focus promotions and advertising budgets on healthier options, including fruit and vegetables, and to introduce requirements for businesses to report on their fruit and vegetable sales as part of a new food data transparency partnership.

Alongside measures to promote greater consumption of fruit and vegetables, policy makers are also urged to take steps to protect low-income consumers from price rises; boost domestic fruit and vegetable supply; and better leverage government leadership to ensure the co-benefits of increased fruit and vegetable production and consumption for health, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity are fully realised.

The UK’s Eatwell Guide recommends that UK adults eat on average around seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day. But current consumption levels are falling short according to the research, even when measured against the more modest ‘5-a-day’ public health messaging target, with only 33% of adults and just 12% of 11–18-year-olds currently achieving the five-portion target.

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