Free fruit and veg in Scots schools, urge doctors

Nicola Sturgeon visits a school to promote healthy eating. Picture: HemediaNicola Sturgeon visits a school to promote healthy eating. Picture: Hemedia
Nicola Sturgeon visits a school to promote healthy eating. Picture: Hemedia

The British Medical Association has called for free fruit and vegetables to be provided in Scotland’s schools amid warnings of a postcode lottery for the provision of healthy food for children.

A survey of fruit and vegetable provision by Scotland’s local authorities found that only 11 of 32 councils offer any of the products to school children. A report carried out a year ago found that half of the local authority areas did so.

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None of the councils provided fruit and veg to children above Primary Three, and none provides it more than three days a week.

All children in Primary One and Two now receive free school meals - as well as those from families with low household incomes - but the BMA warned that establishing healthy eating habits early in life could set up children for a healthier future.

The Scottish Government’s Free Fruit in Schools Initiative, which ran for three years in the early 2000s, was scrapped in 2005 after it was decided that local authorities should be free to determine if and how to take the free fruit in schools scheme forward locally using overall government funding packages.

Peter Bennie, council chairman of BMA Scotland, which represents around 16,000 doctors north of the border, said: “Providing primary school pupils with free fruit or vegetables means that they are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks between meals and helps to build positive habits that can last throughout their lives.

“Investing in children’s health in this way can help them to lead healthier lives and reduce the long-term burden on the NHS.”

He added: “It is concerning that several local authorities have actually scrapped the provision of free fruit and vegetables in schools in recent years. Action is needed to address this variation and ensure that primary school pupils in all parts of the country benefit equally from free fruit and vegetables.”

The Scottish Government-funded Scottish Health Survey, published in September, suggested that children eat fewer portions of fruit and vegetables than adults. Scottish adults ate an average of 3.1 portions a day whereas children aged two to 15 ate an average of 2.8.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Under this government, 129,000 children in primary one to three now have access to a healthy, free school meal - a policy which benefits children and their families alike. In total almost 260,000 pupils are now registered for free school meals.

“The Scottish Government is committed to a whole-school approach to healthy eating.”