A HEALTHY eating programme trialled in the North East is to go nationwide, a Cabinet minister announced in the region yesterday.
Last November, the Department of Health ploughed £200,000 into corner shops to stock fresh fruit and vegetables and promote healthy eating as part of the national Change4Life campaign.
The plan began with just 12 shops in the North East, but proved such an overwhelming success that Health Secretary Andy Burnham in Newcastle yesterday declared it would be extended nationally.
The original 12 shops had a fruit and veg makeover, stocking a wide range of fresh produce alongside Change4Life posters and signs, while appointing a member of staff to champion fruit and vegetables in store.
Thousands of local shops can get help from Change4Life to sell healthy goods thanks to the success of the scheme, in which stores increased fresh produce sales on average by 40%.
Other initiatives meant some shops worked alongside schools and community groups, offering vouchers for 50p off selected fruit and vegetables, in an effort to move after-school snacking away from crisps and chocolate.
In the scheme’s last nine months in the North East, an additional 87 shops signed up and now about a third of shoppers say they will buy more fruit and veg from their local store in future.
On a visit to the Spar store, in Blakelaw, which was one of the first shops to take part, Mr Burnham made fruit salads with local children before announcing the nationwide launch.
He said: “Change4Life corner shops have been really successful in the North East.
“The scheme going nationwide is fantastic news for everyone – a boost to local customers’ health and to shopkeepers’ profits.
“We chose the North East as the pilot area as it is one of those parts of the country where we need to do more to promote healthy eating and provide more healthy options to people.
“It is still one of those parts of the country where life expectancy isn’t as high as other parts and there are some problems to do with health, for instance with higher levels of heart diseases. We thought it seemed a good trial area as we wanted to increase availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.” Corner shops across the country can now join Change4Life, working with the local NHS to promote healthier eating in their communities.
The Department of Health will continue to fund a number of shops in low-income areas, providing fridges to keep stock fresh.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Local shops are at the heart of communities, and Change4Life’s help in improving the fruit and vegetables on offer in these stores can make a huge difference to the diet choices people can make.
“The launch of Change4Life in convenience stores across England shows the enthusiasm and commitment from the convenience store sector to Change4Life and to promoting healthy choices.”