APPLES, bananas and oranges are among the tonnes of fruit that will be given free to a council workforce in a pioneering scheme designed to improve staff health and fitness.
The research project will look at the health and wellbeing of workers at Durham County Council over a six-month period.
Five hundred volunteers from the council will trial the study, which begins today – the first of its kind in the UK.
The project, entitled The Fruit at Work Study, will be jointly led by researchers at Newcastle University and the Technical University of Denmark.
For the next six months, half the volunteers will receive two free pieces of fruit a day, while the control group will initially continue with their normal diet.
The experiment will also assess the number of sick days and overall productivity as well as measuring key indicators such as weight, blood pressure and waist size.
Project lead Professor Chris Seal, of Newcastle University, said: “We all know how much fruit and vegetables we should be eating a day but many of us still don’t do it.
“When you ask people why they don’t, the two most common answers are cost and availability. This initiative overcomes both these problems.
“The idea is that if people have easy access to, say, an apple or banana, then fruit will replace the less healthy snacks which so many of us reach for when we take a coffee break.”
The study falls under the ISAFRUIT Project – an EU funded £13m international study involving 300 scientists from 16 different countries.
As well as looking at the individual health benefits of eating more fruit, the study will measure the cost-effectiveness to an employer of offering free fruit to staff. In Denmark, free fruit at work is provided by more than 60% of companies.
Over the next six months, the experimental group at Durham will consume an extra 20 tonnes of fruit – an estimated 160,000 apples, bananas and oranges, supplied by a local wholesaler.
Dr Phil Wynn, senior occupational physician for the council, said: “The county council is keen to pursue a broad agenda promoting workplace health and well-being support for its staff.
“The fruit at work project is an element of this and will help determine whether this is an effective workplace intervention meriting long-term implementation.”
All participants will undergo a health test measuring weight and blood pressure as well as looking at their general diet and fitness before the trial begins.
Charlotte Bryant, a research nutritionist at Newcastle University and co-ordinator of the ISAFRUIT project in the UK, added: “What we’re interested in is increasing people’s consumption of fruit and the effect that might have on their health.”