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Abt Global Evaluating National Program to Increase Children's Consumption of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Abt Global was recently awarded a two-year contract to evaluate the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). Administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the FFVP aims to help combat childhood obesity by distributing free fruits and vegetables and teaching healthful eating habits to students in elementary schools. Abt Global is conducting the evaluation with project partner the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Surveys report the obesity rate among U.S. children and adolescents to be above 15 percent, with particular prevalence among lower socioeconomic groups. A key objective of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 plan is to reduce national childhood obesity rates below five percent. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce long-term obesity risk. The FFVP provides funding to elementary schools with high percentages of students from low-income households. Participating schools offer fresh fruits and vegetables to students during the school day, outside of normal school breakfast and lunch meals. The primary FFVP goals, as stated by FNS, are to:
  • Create healthier school environments by providing healthier food choices.
  • Expand the variety of fruits and vegetables children experience.
  • Increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Make a difference in children’s diets to impact their present and future health.
The program was piloted in four states and one Native American tribal organization during the 2002-2003 school year and was popular among students, teachers, staff, and administrators. The program was expanded nationally in 2008 with a $50 million annual budget for FY2008 increasing to $150 million in FY2011. The 2008 authorizing legislation required a comprehensive evaluation of the program’s effectiveness.

Unique Research Design to Use Regression Discontinuity Analysis

Abt Global and the Center for Weight and Health are developing a unique research design for the FFVP evaluation. Because a standard random assignment method comparing participating and nonparticipating students in FFVP schools is not viable, the team will use regression discontinuity analysis. This approach will compare student eating habits and nutritional data from schools just above states’ funding cut-offs to students in schools that, while eligible for the program, are not participating due to funding limitations. In addition, to address the challenges of collecting dietary intake data from young children, the team will implement a diary-assisted 24-hour recall approach, combining student self-reporting, teacher- and parent-assisted reporting, and periodic follow-up interviews with trained data collectors. The project team’s evaluation will provide an extensive overview of the FFVP program and its impacts, including descriptions of participating schools, children, and program implementation; FFVP impacts on the school environment; and children’s consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods, attitudes towards fresh fruit and vegetables, and nutritional status. The final evaluation report is scheduled for release in 2011.