New Zealand’s most successful and effective school-based nutrition initiative is applauding progress to reduce child poverty and says providing fresh fruit and vegetables is crucial to ensure ongoing success.
The Fruit and Vegetables in Schools (FIS) initiative will see 25 million servings of fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to 123,000 children and staff at 553 low decile schools this year. The programme is now in its 15th year and caters for low decile primary and intermediate schools nationwide. Government funding is up for renewal mid-year.
Today Stats NZ released the first set of comprehensive child poverty statistics since the Government set targets in the Child Poverty Reduction Act in 2018. They show seven out of nine child poverty measures have improved under this Government. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attributes that success to the $5.5 billion Families Package while acknowledging income is only part of the solution.
Labour market and household statistics senior manager Sean Broughton said examples of material hardship include the respondent reporting not eating fresh fruit or vegetables, putting off a visit to the doctor, or not being able to pay the gas or electricity bills on time.
FIS is funded by the Ministry of Health, managed by United Fresh and supported by The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust. Every child at participating schools is given one piece of fresh seasonal produce to eat with their classmates daily and will try over two dozen varieties of fruit and vegetables during the school year.
United Fresh President Jerry Prendergast says a recent external evaluation of FIS found it reaches more low decile schools than any other food and nutrition health promotion initiative in New Zealand.
“Fruit in Schools is working at the coalface, improving the health, wellbeing and equity of this country’s most vulnerable children by ensuring they all have access to healthy food,” he says.
“It is well-established that children who are hungry struggle to concentrate and learn. FIS helps increase students’ knowledge about nutrition and health while also promoting positive attitudes towards eating fruit and vegetables.”
Today’s child poverty statistics also highlight that Māori and Pacific Island children are more likely to be worse off and experience material hardship than their European counterparts. After housing costs are deducted, about one in four Māori and Pacific Island children are living in relative poverty according to the Stats NZ analysis.
“FIS is also helping to address this inequity,” Prendergast says. “Among the students participating in FIS, 52 per cent are Māori and 29 per cent are Pasifika so we are reaching those communities who are in most need of help.”
FIS principals have reported their students are more engaged with school (58%), there are fewer cases of school sores/skin infections (30%) and dental health/hygiene outcomes have improved (28%) as a direct result of daily access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
The external evaluation of FIS, carried out by Quigley and Watts Ltd in mid-2018, also showed nine out of 10 participating school principals felt FIS creates a sense of equality between students regardless of their family circumstances, and that it’s an effective way of promoting a healthy school environment by removing stigma.
Deliveries are organised at no cost to schools or local communities, and the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust provides free curriculum-linked resources to help promote healthy eating and teach students how to grow their own produce.
“We warmly welcome today’s news that the Government’s focus on child poverty is starting to make a genuine difference. FIS fits perfectly with the Government’s vision of making New Zealand the best place in the world for children and young people and we’ll continue to work hard to provide nutritious food in schools all over the country.”
About Fruit & Vegetables in Schools
Fruit & Vegetables in Schools (FIS) is a government-funded initiative that is managed by United Fresh and supported by the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust. provides daily fresh fruit and vegetables to children in low-decile schools. The initiative was piloted in 25 schools in 2004 and has grown to reach:
The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust supports FIS by providing curriculum-linked resources that support learning with a selection of engaging eBooks and accompanying interactive activities in the areas of germination, composting, physical activity and eating seasonally.
Criteria for schools to join FIS: