16/02/2004

Poor children to gain from fruit and veg vouchers

Hundreds of thousands of parents will receive vouchers for free fruit and veg as part of a drive to encourage healthy eating habits and tackle obesity, it has been announced today.

The move is aimed at young children in poorer families, and will be worth at least £5.60 a week to families with children under one and at least £2.80 a week to those with children over one. Last week a report by doctors classed 9% of children aged between two and four years old as obese.

The changes come under reforms to the Welfare Food Scheme which supports some of the poorest pregnant women and families. Qualification for the scheme is based on factors like low income or receipt of tax credits.

Parents currently receive tokens only for liquid milk and infant formula milk. The tokens will be replaced with weekly vouchers that can be used to buy fresh produce as well as milk, and the scheme will expand to cover all pregnant women under the age of 18 - regardless of family income.

It is estimated that up to 800,000 people will benefit from these changes, which will be phased in from the end of the year.

Health Secretary John Reid said the government was "committed to tackling the rise in obesity".

He said: "The best way of tackling obesity is through encouraging a healthy diet at an early age. These changes mean that pregnant women, nursing mothers and younger children already benefiting from the scheme will in future have a greater choice of healthy eating options, so reducing the chances of obesity."

Reforms to the Welfare Food Scheme also mean that children in nursery will be offered a choice of milk or fruit, instead of just milk as currently happens.

(gmcg)

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