A report evaluating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program said the program increased average fresh fruit and vegetable consumption among students by 15%, or about a quarter-cup per day.

In addition to higher consumption of fresh produce, students’ calorie intake didn’t increase.

“If we had found an increase in total energy intake, we might have been concerned that (the program) could contribute to weight gain,” researchers said in the study results. “Instead, increased fruit and vegetable consumption appears to have replaced consumption of other foods.”

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program began as a pilot program in 2002 and was expanded to all states in the 20008 farm bill.

The program’s funding, initially at only $6 million, is now $150 million a year. Now in schools with the highest percentage of low-income students, the program pays $50 to $75 for fresh produce for each student a year.

Report: School produce program increases consumption“We are obviously thrilled for so many reasons,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

DiSogra said the positive report could not have happened at a better time, since both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are communicating with leaders of both parties about possible cuts to the 2012 farm bill.

“The timing of this could not have been better,” DiSogra said.

The report was written for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service during the 2010-11 school year by Abt Associates Inc. and its partner, the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at University of California-Berkeley.