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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"A slice of old fashioned Labour paternalism"
 real 56k

Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 08:41 GMT
Launch of free school fruit
Apples
Children will get free apples
Millions of schoolchildren could soon be getting a free piece of fruit every day under a government scheme launched on Thursday.

Ministers announced the initiative earlier this year, and have now decided where the first pilot projects are to be.

Primary schools in Leicester, and the London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham will be the first to be targeted.

Four to six year olds will get the free fruit.

Health minister Yvette Cooper, who launches the scheme today, said: "Every child deserves the best start in life. A healthy childhood provides the foundation for health in later life."

"For too many families, access to healthy food is limited, especially in some low income areas where affordable fruit and vegetables can be hard to find."

The fruit involved could be anything from apples and pears to bananas and satsumas, and, when rolled out countrywide, would cost the government in the region of £2m a year.

Health benefits

While the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables are not totally clear, most experts agree that increased consumption is likely to help in a variety of areas.

In particular, eating fruit such as apples is thought to improve lung function, which may help children with asthma control their symptoms.

It is recommended that adults eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with the suggestion that diseases such as heart disease, stroke and even cancer could be reduced.

Surveys have shown that one in five children eats no fruit and that children's diets, in general, have become less healthy over recent decades.

Dr Tim Key, a senior scientist at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, welcomed the scheme.

He said: "We estimate that about 35% of cancers may be preventable by changing our diet.

"We welcome any initiative to improve people's diet but especially one that aims to increase children's consumption of fruit."

National Heart Forum chief executive Paul Lincoln said: "We know that children are not eating anywhere near the amount of fruit and vegetables needed to reduce their risk of coronary heart disease, and other chronic diseases in later life.

"A free piece of fruit in schools is an important way of boosting - often doubling - children¿s daily intake, and tackling some of the stark inequalities in nutrition and health affecting children living in poverty.

"The government is to be congratulated on this pilot scheme and encouraged to extend it to all school age children across the country."

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