A government scheme which offers children aged four to six a free piece of fruit a day at school has had no long-term health benefit, researchers claim.

Researchers from the University of Leeds examined the fruit and vegetable intake of 3,700 children from 98 schools in the north of England during 2004, the year the scheme was launched.

They found that although the scheme initially boosted fruit intake by half a portion, the benefits lapsed after seven months and when pupils were no longer eligible for free fruit, the benefits disappeared completely.

“The findings of this evaluation showed a short term increase in fruit intake can be achieved in young children who remain in the scheme,” said Professor Janet Cade. “However, further interventions may be needed to prevent the waning of this effect.”

Meanwhile, researchers have claimed that extending VAT to unhealthy foods could prevent up to 3,200 deaths from heart disease a year.

“Fat taxes may be used to produce modest changes in diet which would have a meaningful effect on mortality,” said Dr Mike Rayner, from the Department of Public Health at Oxford University.