PRIMARY school children will have free fruit withdrawn under a council’s plan to save cash.
Midlothian is stopping the daily handout to 2000 P1 and P2 pupils in a bid to save up to £160,000 annually.
The council says it will still make fruit available as part of school lunches, the charge for which is increasing by 10p.
But health campaigners said removing free fruit from cafeterias was a “false economy” because unhealthy children cost the NHS more in the long run.
Midlothian Council, which is run by an SNP-led coalition, is thought to be only the second council in Scotland to axe the programme, which was introduced in 2003.
Ministers introduced free fruit as part of a £63m programme to improve the eating habits of youngsters and tackle soaring rates of obesity, heart disease and cancer.
NHS statistics show 30% of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese.
But Aberdeenshire Council scrapped free fruit in 2011.
Tam Fry, Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and member of the National Obesity Forum, said: “I think it’s a false economy. What we need to do is encourage children to eat healthily and taking their free fruit away flies in the face of that.
“Similar policies have worked well south of the border and there’s no reason Scotland can’t follow suit.
“Only after several years will you see results but if it’s still not working we need to address why that is and what can be done about it.
“But stopping free fruit isn’t how you do it – we should keep that.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Encouraging healthy eating in schools is absolutely key to improving the health of this country.
“Clearly, Midlothian Council doesn’t agree with this principle. Local authorities across Scotland are facing severe budgetary pressures, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
“Having healthier youngsters will save money in future, so I urge the Scottish Government to see what can be done to restore this valuable scheme.”
Midlothian councillor Lisa Beattie, Cabinet Member for Education, said the price rise was also a key factor in dealing with the suppliers of the lunches.
She said: “This is not about limiting children’s choices but about promoting the right choices and there will be no impact on the choice of healthy foods available.
“The reduction focuses on working in partnership with other Councils in obtaining the best price for food through our suppliers.
“Primary 1 and 2 pupils will still continue to be provided with fresh fruit – this will be done mainly through school meals with a revised provision of fruit in classrooms to reduce food wastage.
“It is vital that we educate and encourage young people to establish healthy eating habits as early as possible and these proposals will not limit the nutritional food available to all our pupils.”