A UNIVERSITY project which aims to boost healthy diets in low income households is set to have its funding extended after a successful pilot scheme in Athersley North.

Fresh Street, run by Sheffield University, identified the area as a place which could benefit from a scheme which looks to improve eating habits in areas of high deprivation.

The university said people living on low incomes are more likely to have a higher consumption of sugar and saturated fatty acids, and a lower intake of fruit and vegetables and dietary fibre than recommended. The thinking behind the voucher scheme is that residents’ consumption of fresh food will increase.

Almost 100 households on two unnamed streets have been receiving free vouchers on a weekly basis - worth £5 - provided by the Alexandra Rose charity and the North Area Council, who provided £5,000 in match funding, in order for the scheme to run over six months.

Clare Relton, who is leading the project, said: “Fresh Street addresses an issue of major strategic public health importance - how to create sustainable and healthy diets, eating behaviours and food systems in areas of high deprivation.

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“People living on low incomes are more likely to have a consumption of sugar and saturated fatty acids, and lower intake of fruit and vegetables and dietary fibre than recommended.

“The purpose of this study is to develop and test the feasibility of an innovative public health intervention which aims to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, encourage new purchasing, food preparation and eating patterns in the short term and in the longer term reduce food poverty and improve health outcomes.

“If successful, this intervention is likely to increase social cohesion and strengthen the resilience of local sustainable food systems and the food choice architecture.

“Having identified Athersley North as an area which could benefit, 99 households on two streets were eligible. The take-up rate has been good, with 80 per cent of those taking advantage of the vouchers.”

The £5-a-week voucher has enabled residents free access to fresh fruit and vegetables at either a local grocery, Five-A-Day on Laithes Lane, or Barnsley market.

“It also creates social interaction as people on the scheme are heading out and speaking to others about it,” Clare added. “Our research over the last several months shows people have lost weight, they’re eating more fresh food and are financially better off.

“The project set out to increase the participants’ consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, leading to a change in behaviour and contributing to improve health and wellbeing of voucher recipients.

“Local suppliers of fruit and vegetables have benefited from increased customer demand - the use of vouchers that can only be redeemed through local suppliers will support local business and keep profits in the community.”

The North Area Council provisionally agreed to provide a further six months’ funding towards the scheme following its success, but its members said there should be an emphasis on providing vegetables over the winter months instead of fruit.

Coun Dave Leech, chairman of the area council, said: “It’s a fantastic scheme which has had very good results - people are using it and the health benefits speak for themselves.

“I’d love to see it rolled out across the area council’s wards, but I think it’s important to run it for a year to see its impact as so far it’s been run in the warmer months.”