A school snack program initiated by the province of British Columbia, Canada, is gaining national and international recognition as a model for promoting a healthier lifestyle.

Gordon Hogg, Minister of State for ActNow BC, told growers at the annual convention of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association in Kelowna that they play an important role in the School Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which is now in 354 B.C. schools.

"Twice every week we bring locally grown produce—one serving—into the classroom," Hogg said. "It’s about promoting healthy living and healthy eating and the value you bring to that. Certainly, the fruit growers are an integral part of us being able to effect that change for British Columbians.

"It’s about buying locally, it’s about fruit and vegetable snacks, and it’s about educating students about the ­positive impact that it will have on their lives. If we want to have quality of life, this is an important process. Fruit and vegetables are an integral part of being able to achieve that."

Hogg said the ActNow initiative, a $30-million health promotion, has received accolades from a number of sources. The goal of the program is to be the healthiest jurisdiction to ever host an Olympic Games by the time the Winter Olympics are staged in Vancouver in 2010.

Model for health promotion

"The Health Association of Canada for the first time presented a province with an award for promoting healthy living," he said. "The World Health Organization has had researchers here a number of times inspecting it, and we had an opportunity to be designated a best ­practices model for health promotion for the world."

He said it has been recognized that the next generation of children will likely not live longer than their parents. "We’ve doubled the number of children who are overweight, tripled the number of obese British Columbians," he said.

He pointed out that only 40 percent of British Columbians eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

"We have in B.C. some of the very best fruit in the world, and we have to find ways to ensure that we educate our children," Hogg said.

Increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables should help reduce obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, he added.

A study by the University of Victoria shows that the school snack program, which has been in place for more than a year, is already having an impact, Hogg said.

"Children are coming home, and they’re interested in having more fruit and vegetables. We’re finding that some children are increasing one or two servings a day. They are now getting close to five servings a day. It represents about 100,000 servings a week increase because of that program.

"The University of Victoria found that firstly there has been an exponentially higher interest in apples, and some students were saying that plums taste better than candy. Parents are saying their children are asking for more fruit in their lunches, and they’re saying it’s going across their whole family.

"We have to insure that we get our fruit and vegetables into the hands of our children so they learn in many cases to change the behavior of their parents."

Eating habits

He added that 78 percent of parents said they had been affected by the school snack program and are ­buying more fruits and vegetables, while 55 percent of students said they were changing their eating habits.

Hogg said there has been criticism about the program in the media, which has accused the government of becoming a nanny state.

"I think there’s a difference between a nanny state and a neglectful state," he said. "If we know something about what is best for British Columbians in terms of their health, we should make that information available."

A recent study showed that the East Kootenays area has the highest fruit and vegetable intake in British Columbia, with 53 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 64 eating the recommended amount. Ironically, the lowest fruit and vegetable consuming area in the province is the Okanagan at 33 percent.