Objective: To evaluate the impact of a fruit and vegetable subsidy program on short-term health outcomes of disadvantaged Aboriginal children.
Design, setting and participants: A before-and-after study involving clinical assessments, health record audits and blood testing of all children aged 0-17 2013s (n = 167) from 55 participating families at baseline and after 12 months at three Aboriginal community-controlled health services in New South Wales. All assessments were completed between December 2008 and September 2010.
Intervention: A weekly box of subsidised fruit and vegetables linked to preventive health services and nutrition promotion at an Aboriginal Medical Service.
Main outcome measures: Change in episodes of illness, health service and emergency department attendances, antibiotic prescriptions and anthropometry.
Results: There was a significant decrease in oral antibiotics prescribed (- 0.5 prescriptions/2013; 95% CI, - 0.8 to - 0.2) during 12 months of participation in the program compared with the 12 months before the program. The proportion of children classified as overweight or obese at baseline was 28.3% (38/134) and the proportion in each weight category did not change (P = 0.721) after 12 months. A small but significant increase in mean haemoglobin level (3.1 g/L; 95% CI, 1.4-4.8 g/L) was shown, although the proportion with iron deficiency (baseline, 41%; follow-up, 37%; P = 0.440) and anaemia (baseline, 8%; follow-up, 5%; P = 0.453) did not change significantly.
Conclusion: it and vegetable subsidy program was associated with improvements in some indicators of short-term health status among disadvantaged Aboriginal children. A controlled trial is warranted to investigate the sustainability and feasibility of healthy food subsidy programs in Australia.