New research into the impact of fruit and vegetables in schools has shown that this is the most comprehensive health initiative for schools with a low decade in New Zealand, which greatly improves the health and education outcomes for students.
FIS encourages students to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables by delivering a piece of product to more than 118,000 students every school day and is run in one or two deciles across the country.
Research conducted in the past semester by Quigley and Watts, including investigating and interviewing school principals and parents, highlighted the significant health benefits that the food and nutrition initiative offers to students, as well as opening other learning opportunities.
Principal Bruce Young at Holy Cross School in Papatutoe, Auckland, says that improvements in overall health and attitudes have been the biggest factors.
"The change in the general health of children is enormous, along with their attitude to new things to try and experiment, it also has an impact on healthier lunch boxes and we have become a water-only school.
"The supportive social resources provided by 5+ A Day as part of Fruit in Schools are used in two ways – because food is integrated into daily life, it provides a broader context for learning about science, for example, but also to improve health. "
Jerry Prendergast, president of United Fresh – the organization that manages the initiative says that FIS tackles many social barriers to learning and is in line with government priorities to achieve equality and child well-being.
"In many of these schools children have no access to enough food, let alone fresh fruit and vegetables Fruit in Schools helps to tackle that barrier by giving children healthy food in a way that creates equality, regardless of the background, and takes the stress away from whānau and teachers when children come to school hungry. "
The main research results showed that FIS improved both health and educational performance. Eighty-three percent of school principals said that the overall health of their children would decrease if FIS were to stop, with 74% and 62% respectively, resulting in concentration and academic outcomes. Fifty-six percent said that behavioral problems would increase and 53% believed that absenteeism would increase without the initiative.
Feeding hungry children remained the main benefit of FIS, eight out of ten school directors reported their school or kura had fewer hungry students and nine out of ten reported a sense of equality between students, regardless of their family circumstances.
FIS has also been a powerful catalyst for other health initiatives and learning opportunities, 74% of school principals said that FIS encouraged actions such as setting up vegetable gardens and planting fruit trees, cooking classes, initiatives to encourage healthier lunch boxes, water policy only, and increased physical activity during the break and the duration of the lesson.
Teachers are closely supported by the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust, which offers learning plan-related resources that focus on healthy eating, gardening, cooking, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and physical activity.
FIS also had a positive impact at home, with three-quarters of the parents surveyed saying their child ate more fruit at home, and almost half ate more vegetables. Seven out of ten parents also said that FIS supported them to provide healthy food at home.
On the basis of the research, success factors include schools that become owners by developing their own distribution systems, designating fruit and vegetable monitors for students, building compost and worm farms for leftovers, local delivery and distribution of products and the inclusion of whānau and the community.
Funded by the Department of Health and managed by United Fresh New Zealand, with support from the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust, FIS was originally rolled out in 2005 and now runs in 548 low-level primary and middle schools – employing more than 118,000 students and teachers deliver with mainly locally grown seasonal products every day.