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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 13:35 GMT
Free fruit and veg for toddlers
Fruit stall
Parents will receive up to 5.60 worth of vouchers per week
Parents of toddlers are to be able to get free fruit and vegetables, the government has announced.

The move is an extension of the existing scheme under which parents can obtain vouchers for free milk.

The Department of Health said it was aiming to improve nutrition in poorer families.

Health Secretary John Reid said it was not the government's role to lecture families, but it wanted to encourage people to eat more healthily.

Last week a report by doctors estimated 9% of children aged between two and four years old were obese.

Low income families

The Healthy Start scheme replaces the Welfare Food Scheme, set up during World War II to protect the health of children during rationing.

The best way of tackling obesity is through encouraging a healthy diet at an early age
Health Secretary John Reid
Under the new scheme, parents will receive vouchers which can be used to buy fruit and vegetables as well as milk and powdered milk for babies.

Parents on low incomes will be eligible for the vouchers, which will be worth at least 2.80 per week to families with children aged over one year old.

Families with children aged between 0 and one year old will receive vouchers worth at least 5.60 per week.

Children in nursery school, who now receive free milk, will also be able to have free fruit under the new scheme.

In addition, all pregnant women under the age of 18 will also be eligible for the scheme, regardless of their family income.

The vouchers can be used in a wide range of shops and pharmacies.

The government estimates around 800,000 people will benefit from the scheme, which will be phased in from the end of this year.

Mr Reid said: "Although I believe it's not the government's role to lecture people how to live their lives, it is our responsibility to provide the means for them and their families to follow a healthier lifestyle.

"The best way of tackling obesity is through encouraging a healthy diet at an early age.

"These changes mean that pregnant women, nursing mothers and younger children already benefiting from the scheme will in future have a greater choice of healthy eating options, so reducing the chances of obesity."

A spokesman for the Food Commission, an independent food watchdog, told BBC News Online: "We welcome the idea of free fruit and vegetables for children. It is essential for good health."

Shadow Health and Education Minister, Chris Grayling, said: "The government has re-announced this scheme in an attempt to mask their failure to deal with the very real problem of obesity in the UK.

"Their approach to public health issues has long been criticised for being fragmented and lacking in coherence. It is a sad state of affairs that they have been forced to stoop so low."

Food help for poor mothers
29 Oct 02  |  Health

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