Government urged to extend Food Dudes scheme across all English primary schools

Leading figures in the horticulture industry are urging the Government to introduce the award-winning Food Dudes healthy eating programme into every primary school in England.

Co-ordinators of the scheme, based at Bangor University where it was first developed more than a decade ago, wrote to health minister Andrew Langley requesting that the programme be rolled out nationally following a meeting of its supporters in England.

The Horticultural Development Company (HDC), the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and the NFU want to see the Government make the scheme part of its strategy to tackle rising obesity levels.

Their push follows news that the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme (SFVS), which gives primary school children a free piece of fruit or a vegetable each school day, is uncertain because its funding has not been secured beyond 2011 (Grower, 23 July).

Management of the SFVS is also being passed from a centralised Department of Health-led team to individual primary care trusts, and then to the doctors themselves, who are likely to have no experience of - and little time for - fresh produce procurement.

A Food Dudes representative told Grower: "We are pointing out to the Government as it reviews its costs that the whole thing can be streamlined. You can make Food Dudes and the SFVS part of the schools' catering contracts so that all of these logistics issues do not exist. The GPs would not have to become involved."

She added that the team received a reply from Lansley on Friday (13 August) - ten days after writing to him. "What the Government has said is that it cannot make any decision until its spending review is complete in the autumn. But it has not said no."

Fruiterers representative Will Sibley said: "Unlike other schemes that have been put forward, which have just supplied fruit to children, this scheme has lasting effects. It makes a difference to diets and trials have shown that the uptake of fresh fruit and vegetables in children after they have gone through the scheme seems to continue year after year.

"From the industry's point of view it has such potential to make an enormous amount of difference. There are millions of eligible children in the UK and if every one of them ate just a raspberry a day then the total crop from more than a dozen acres of raspberries will be required from growers every single day. That's an enormous difference to UK horticulture."

HDC chairman Neil Bragg added: "Over the past 13 years, the HDC has put at least half-a-million pounds into the scheme. But every time we have tried to promote it, it's been met with closed doors.

"Fruit has been given to kids through other schemes but these have just put fruit in front of them as a reward system. We want to see this rolled out nationally."

NFU board for horticulture chairman Sarah Pettitt, speaking in a newsletter to NFU members, echoed these sentiments: "What the coalition Government should be doing is directing admittedly meagre resources towards the Food Dudes scheme to re-enforce that behavioural change at home as much as in school."

FOOD DUDES: IMPROVING CHILDREN'S EATING PATTERNS

Food Dudes focuses on changing the eating patterns of four to 11-year-olds by using cartoon "superheroes" to help them develop a liking for fresh produce.

The scheme, which portrays healthy eating as "cool", has been taken up by Coventry City Council following its success in Wolverhampton, where more than 5,000 children have taken part.

Food Dudes coordinator Pauline Milne said: "There's lots of exciting things happening with Food Dudes at the moment as we have new areas coming on board all the time.

"In Bedfordshire, another five schools are coming on board and we have just secured a tender with Coventry City Council, where the programme is being rolled out to 30 schools (9,000 children) over the next two years."

Initial research in six of the schools in Wolverhampton suggested that the children involved have increased their fruit consumption by 54 per cent and vegetable consumption by 48 per cent.

Wolverhampton Primary Care Trust launched the project in January 2009, with financial backing from the HDC and the Fruiterers, becoming the first primary care trust in England to roll out the project city-wide.

The scheme was introduced to England after it enjoyed success in Ireland, where the Irish Government introduced Food Dudes to every primary school across the country in 2007.

Its success in Wolverhampton was acknowledged in May this year when Food Dudes staved off competition from 112 other entries to win the gold medal at the chief medical officer for England Sir Liam Donaldson's Public Health Awards.


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