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WASHINGTON -- The United Fresh Produce Association Foundation joined first lady Michelle Obama Nov. 22 at the Riverside Elementary School in Miami as a new coalition of public and private sector partners launched the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative.

The new initiative builds on the pioneering work done by United Fresh to spearhead public health attention on the power of school salad bars as an effective strategy for increasing children's consumption of fruits and vegetables.

In 2009, United Fresh brought university researchers and school officials together for a series of congressional and administration briefings on the effectiveness of fruit and vegetable salad bars in schools. Subsequently, the United Fresh Foundation's Center for Nutrition & Health launched its own Salad Bar in Every School campaign earlier this year. During 2010, the United foundation has donated more than 60 salad bars to schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia to create models of excellence and to demonstrate how fruit and vegetable salad bars can be important tools in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

"We are thrilled to now take this campaign to a new level, joining with the Let's Move initiative in a broad coalition committed to increasing children's access to a wide array of fruits and vegetables in schools," United Fresh Chairman of the Board Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, said in a Nov. 22 press release. "Research has shown that kids given a variety of choices of fruits and vegetables in a salad bar respond by trying new items, incorporating greater variety in their diets, and increasing their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. And, increased daily access to a variety of fruits and vegetables in schools can provide children an experience that carries over beyond school, reaching both families at home and leading to a lifetime of healthy snack and meal choices."

The new Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools coalition includes three founding partners: the United Fresh Foundation, Food Family Farming Foundation, and the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance, which in turn represents a wide array of public and private sector partners.

"The addition of these partners," including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and numerous public health organizations, "provides a powerful team to make salad bars a cornerstone strategy in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in schools," United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel said in the release. "Even now, the USDA team is preparing guidance for schools in effectively incorporating salad bars in meal planning, providing food-safety training, and bringing together school foodservice leaders to share best practices and innovations. The CDC is providing strong public health evaluation, working with state health and nutrition directors to measure the impact of salad bars in schools in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and combating childhood obesity. Public health groups focused on prevention of cancer, heart disease and diabetes are alerting their constituents to the simple but effective strategy of using school salad bars to meet the critical need to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. And, consumer groups, foundations and industry partners are working together to build private-sector funding and grassroots support for school salad bars. It's an incredible team."

One of the key strategies in the new Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative is to provide schools that want a salad bar the opportunity to create their own webpage at www.saladbars2schools.org to raise donations from their local communities as well as to receive donations from the general funds of the initiative.

"I anticipate that this will become one of the most effective features of the campaign," Ms. Smith said. "As an onion grower in a rural community in Oregon, we want to work with our local schools to show them the value of salad bars and get them registered on the site. It won't take long for local businesses, parent-teacher organizations and community organizations to raise the $2,500 or so that it takes to install a modern, food safety compliant salad bar in schools across the country."

In addition to local community support, the coalition is now moving into high gear in national fundraising from corporations, foundations and others to support this important health initiative. "I can't think of a better investment than the future health of our kids," Mr. Stenzel said. "We know the obesity crisis in American children today is not only taking years off our children's lives, but also adding billions of dollars to the nation's healthcare costs. Employers, insurance companies and really all of us have a very strong motivation to work together now to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables today to prevent future health problems and costs."

He concluded, "We invite anyone interested in this shared mission to contact the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools partners, and join the team."

The members of the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance are: American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, American Frozen Food Institute, American Heart Association, California Department of Public Health, Canned Food Alliance, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, National Council of Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Coordinators, National Alliance for Nutrition & Physical Activity, National Cancer Institute, Produce for Better Health Foundation, Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services; Research, Education & Economics; Marketing and Regulatory Programs.