A study published in Applied Economics Perspective and Policy shows that giving students free fruit and vegetables may lower obesity.
The researchers looked at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's (USDA) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Established by the U.S. Congress in 2002, the program gives elementary schools with high enrollment of students who receive free- and reduced-price lunches between $50 and $75 per child per year to provide free fruits and vegetables for between-meal snacks.
The researchers found that in Arkansas—where 20% of those aged 10 to 17 are obese—the program led to a 3% decline in obesity. "By this measure, our results suggest that the fresh fruit and vegetable program is a very cost-effective obesity prevention tool," said Rodolfo Nayga, one of the study's coauthors. "Moreover, prevention of childhood obesity is in addition to the other nutritional benefits that come from increased fruit and vegetable consumption."
According to the USDA, there is $174.5 million of funding available for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in 2014–2015, which is enough to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to at least 2.3 million elementary school children across the country. Expanding the program to all of the nation's 35.2 million pre-kindergarteners through eighth graders would take about $2.7 billion.