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A fresh budget for province's school fruit and veggie program

Programs objective is to cultivate an impulse for healthy choices



The government of British Columbia has allocated an additional $3.5 million dollars to its fruit and veggie program offered in B.C.'s schools.

"I wish it was more, so we could have more fruit," said Ben Rowles, an eager Whistler Secondary student.

A collaborative effort by the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Education, the food and veggie program was created to help educate students on the virtues of the food groups a decade ago. It is available in 1,460 schools or 90 per cent of B.C. schools.

The objective is to cultivate an impulse for healthy choices. This year, 651 B.C. growers provided fruit and vegetables to more than 489,000 students. Milk was provided to about 83,000 students in kindergarten to Grade 2 last year.

"By providing children with fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables and milk, we're helping them develop an appetite for healthy living - a crucial part of our Healthy Families BC prevention strategy and a major priority for the future of our health system," said Health Minister Terry Lake in a release.

Fruit and vegetables are delivered to schools 13 times a year.

"I don't think it matters what the food it is," mused Rowles. "If you hand it out for free, people are probably going to eat it."

Another goal is to create awareness and interest in locally grown food. All of the products handed out through the program are B.C. grown.

Other benefits include more attentive children, and an enthusiastic cluster of hands all grasping at the basket when a new delivery arrives.

"It's very popular," said Rowles, "You would think that its novelty would wear off after elementary school, but it hasn't."

The Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Services Authority have provided combined funding of $21.5 million to the BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation since 2010-11 to support the program.

Despite programs like these, Canada is still facing a serious obesity problem. One in four, or about 6.3 million adults, were obese in 2011/12.

Canada's food guide, which is frequently used as a template for nutrition education, has also recently come under fire.

Developed during the Second World War, the original guide is risible by today's standards. For dairy it simply read, "MILK - Adults - 1 pint. Children - more than 1 pint, and some CHEESE, as available."

Over time, it's evolved to encompass a greater variety of foods, and more sophisticated standards. Still, many experts are unsure if it effectively addresses Canada's obesity problem.

Tracy Higgs, a local nutritionist with daughters in kindergarten and Grade 2, thinks that food groups aren't the best way to introduce kids to nutrition.

"It doesn't really mean anything to them," she said. "We should have something a little bit simpler... In my practice what I try to do is make it as simple for people as possible, so they can understand it... instead of worrying too much about different food groups.

"I think kids should just be introduced to a lot of different types of food, so they like different types of food rather than worrying about what they rules are."

Health Canada is considering further revisions to the food guide, namely, removing fruit juice as an option for fruit servings.

Many Canadians are unaware of what the food groups are. According to the National Post, less than half of 1,000 Canadians asked could name all four.