Must try harder – how the revision of the EU school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme can improve children’s diets

As EU policies in the areas of food systems and public health continue to evolve, especially following the adoption of the Farm to Fork Strategy, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the European Child Guarantee, the EU school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme should be revised to achieve its full potential to enhance the consumption of products that contribute to healthy and sustainable diets, EPHA recommended today in its response to the EU’s review of the scheme.

The scheme’s potential is undermined by its small budget and an ineffective use of the allocated envelope by EU national governments.  All 76,2 million European pupils enrolled in the European education system (Eurostat, 2020) should be able to benefit throughout their school years, from nurseries to upper secondary level education, so that “healthy eating habits and the consumption of local products” can be promoted from the youngest age.

From a public health perspective, the EU school scheme contributes to efforts to reduce overweight and obesity by not only promoting the consumption of fresh or processed fruit and vegetables but also of milk and selected milk products in line with national dietary recommendations and food based dietary guidelines. However, school schemes’ main long-term value comes from the opportunity they give children to discover and become accustomed to new products, building acceptance, especially of vegetables, at a young age and providing a knock-on effect for food choices throughout life (EPHA, 2016). However, exceptions exist, and some products currently distributed through the scheme may contain “limited” quantities of added sugar, salt and/or fat.  EPHA therefore welcomes the proposal made in the inception impact assessment to reconsider these current exceptions and the further possibility to include other products, such as plant-based drinks and/or whole grains, which are part of a healthy and sustainable diet.

Finally, beyond suggestions for specific improvements, it is time to consider updating the basic nature of the school scheme to improve its contribution to the transition towards sustainable food systems in line with EU policy. This could be achieved by transforming the EU school scheme into a wider instrument to financially support the advancement of healthy and sustainable public food procurement in schools.

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