USDA Fruit and Vegetable Program
The quality of children's diets is a subject of considerable public concern. National data indicate that dietary intakes of U.S. children and adolescents are less than optimal in several respects.
- The prevalence of obesity among youth has increased dramatically in recent years, suggesting that they are eating more calories than they need.
- Fruit and vegetable consumption among youth is below recommended levels. Children ages 6-19 consumed on average half the recommended minimum of fruit servings in 1994-96.
- Children ages 6-11 consumed slightly more than half the minimum recommended for vegetable servings. While adolescents reported vegetable intakes closer to recommendations, potatoes, most of them fried, accounted for more than a third of the servings.
ERS research indicates that children (as well as adults) who eat more fruit tend to have lower Body Mass Indices (a measure of overweight). See Higher Fruit Consumption Linked With Lower Body Mass Index .
USDA school meal programs make breakfast, lunch, and after-school snacks that meet minimum nutritional standards available to all children in participating schools. Low-income children may receive meals and snacks at no price or a reduced price, depending on household income level. National data indicate that these meals contribute substantially to children's intakes of several important nutrients.
The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program encourages consumption of fruits and vegetables by making fruit and vegetable snacks available at no cost to all children in participating schools. The Nutrition Programs Title of the 2002 Farm Act provided $6 million for USDA to award to schools through a Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program (FVPP) for the 2002-03 school year. The program has since become a permanent program that was expanded to cover selected schools in all 50 States, as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.
ERS evaluated the pilot based on:
- analyses of administrative school records
- focus groups and interviews with school staff and parents
- a conference of pilot program managers, other pilot staff, and policy stakeholders.
See Evaluation of the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program: Report to Congress.
Most schools participating in the pilot considered the program to be very successful and strongly supported its continuation. Because the pilot only included schools that had voluntarily applied to participate, these schools may not be representative of nonpilot schools. Pilot sites were, however, chosen to represent a mix of large and small; rural, suburban, and urban; and elementary, middle, and high schools. The participating schools also included students from diverse ethnic backgrounds and family income levels, based on the proportion of students certified as eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
The 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act made the Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program permanent and expanded it to more States. The 2008 Farm Bill expanded it to all States, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. However, it is available in selected schools in each State based on need—schools in which a high proportion of students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals. The current Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). For information about child nutrition program participation, contact the State agencies that administer the program.