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United Fresh defends benefits of school nutrition policy in wake of latest study

WASHINGTON — One month before Congress must act to reauthorize school nutrition standards, the United Fresh Produce Association defended government policies to increase fresh fruits and vegetables after a new study raised questions about consumption and plate waste.

The University of Vermont study, which was released Aug. 25, used digital imaging to capture students’ lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line, and compared results before and after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules went into effect.

Researchers found school children consuming slightly less of fruits and vegetables, despite the new offerings.

But United Fresh said plenty of studies have shown the benefits of offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in schools and the role of fresh produce in battling rising obesity rates.

Last January, the Gretchen Swan Center of Nutrition evaluated the current salad bar program and found that 57 percent of schools reported an increase in student participation in school lunch where salad bars are available, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.

Another study at the University of Arkansas found USDA’s Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program has been an effective tool in reducing obesity rates in children compared to schools that do not have the FFVP program. 

“The bottom line is there are a number of factors that contribute to a student’s lunch experience and what can be associated to their eating patterns,” Guenther said. “More important, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry continues to be committed to working with their school nutrition partners across the country to provide students the best possible options for a healthy and delicious meal during school.”

The latest study comes as the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has scheduled a Sept. 17 markup of bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the child nutrition programs. The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, is due for reauthorization by Sept. 30, 2015, leaving Congress few legislative days to get the job done.