Government to children: Eat your veggies

Agriculture, Health ministries launch project in Holon, Turan to encourage good nutrition for 1st-6th graders.

Agriculture Minister Orit Noked with fruits & veggies 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Aliza Zazak)
Agriculture Minister Orit Noked with fruits & veggies 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Aliza Zazak)
The Agriculture and Health ministries have launched a pilot program to encourage elementary school children to eat more fresh produce. The project was inaugurated Monday with the distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables by outgoing Agriculture Minister Orit Noked to children in the first to sixth grades in schools in Holon and in Turan, north of Nazareth.
The project, she said, is aimed at “increasing the younger generation’s awareness of fresh and healthful food, especially in light of growing overweight among children. The program will improve the consumer habits of children in the long term, which will help prevent diseases that result from poor nutrition, contribute to the public good, and bring about savings in the health system,” Noked said.
In the first stage, fresh produce will be provided in Holon and Turan to first-to-sixth- graders twice weekly. Some 5,000 children will benefit from the pilot, which will be supervised by teachers until the end of the school year. The program will not require financial contribution from parents.
The Agriculture Ministry said that based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, overweight and obesity are on the increase, largely due to the consumption of more processed food and less fresh fruit and vegetables. As the price of fresh produce in the last decade has increased, there has been a decline of 14 percent in family expenditures on fruits and vegetables.
There is a clear connection between socioeconomic level and family expenditure on fresh produce, the Agriculture Ministry said. The highest decile in the population spends NIS 81 on vegetables and NIS 69 on fruit per capita monthly, while the lowest decile spends NIS 55 on vegetables and NIS 41 on fruits.
Processed foods made out of white flour, sugar and simple starches are cheap, but fattening and harmful to health.
The program is a result of success observed in the European Union, where a total of 54,000 schools in 24 countries inaugurated a similar project in 2009 which is still running.
The government’s effort to increase the amount of fresh vegetables and fruits on children’s and their parents’ plates appears to counter attempts by the government in recent years to place the 17 percent value added tax on fresh produce as a way of increasing state income. A few years ago, when such a plan was openly discussed, the Health Ministry issued an official warning against such a policy, arguing that making fresh produce more expensive would discourage consumption, harm public health, and in the long-term lead to more chronic disease like diabetes and heart attacks.
Irit Livneh, the Education Ministry’s health inspector, said schools are the perfect framework for teaching proper eating habits.
Prof. Itamar Grotto, the Health Ministry’s official in charge of public health, said the project “fits in well with the government’s plan to encourage a healthy and active way of life. We regard encouraging children to eat fresh produce and increasing their access to it through free distribution as very important,” he said.