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30-05-2012 | General practice | Article

‘Fruteros’ outside schools could help improve children’s diet

Abstract

Free abstract

MedWire News: Allowing mobile fruit and vegetable vendors or "fruteros" to sell their produce outside schools could help children increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, and reduce the risk for childhood obesity, suggest results from a US study.

"Since 2008, the Green Carts program in New York City has provided incentives to vendors to sell whole fruits and vegetables in areas that have limited access to such food," write June Tester (Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, California) and colleagues in Preventing Chronic Disease.

To test whether a similar scheme tailored to school children might be effective in Oakland, California, the researchers obtained permission for a single frutero to sell precut and packaged fruits and vegetables outside an elementary school campus (5-10 year old children).

The school had 279 students during the 2008-2009 school year. Of these, 41% were Hispanic, 33% African-American, 15% Asian, and less than 1% White. The school was in an impoverished neighborhood, and 74% of the children were entitled to a free or reduced price lunch.

The bags of precut fruit and vegetables (eg, mangoes and jicamas) were chilled on ice and sold for US$ 1.50 (€ 1.20) as children came out of school at the end of each day. Importantly, neither the school nor the teachers actively promoted the intervention with students.

Tester and co-workers observed how much fruit and vegetables were purchased from the frutero over a 2-week period in the fall of 2008.

When positioned outside the school, the team calculated that 59% of the fruteros customers (n=233 in total; 248 items sold) were students from the elementary school.

For each successive day positioned outside the school, one extra bag of fruit or vegetables was sold by the frutero, and 1.5 less nonnutritious food products (eg, ice cream, cotton candy) were sold by a competing vendor in the same area.

The authors concede that this was only a brief intervention with no evidence provided of a long-term beneficial effect.

However, they say: "We demonstrated the feasibility of a sanctioned vendor to sell nutritious food items after school and suggest that the presence of this vendor may decrease sales at vendors selling less healthful items."

They conclude: "Interventions like ours have the potential to increase access to healthful food to children in the after-school environment."

By Helen Albert

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