Efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States have not been effective, a report released Wednesday concluded.
In its 2010 Report Card, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance tried to measure the nation’s progress in the five years since the group unveiled its National Action Plan to Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.
But if a teacher had written the report card, it would read, “Does not meet expectations.” The group found that many of the initiatives with the potential to increase fruit and vegetable consumption–nutrition education, federal spending, and advertising healthy foods–still have a long way to go.
Only six percent of Americans reach their target servings of vegetables, while eight reach their recommended servings of fruit, the alliance said. These levels have remained relatively constant over the past 10 years.
Under-consumption of fruits and vegetables is a life-threatening matter, as it can increase the risk chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The cost of inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption adds up to $56 billion a year in health care costs.
Colleen Doyle, the American Cancer Society’s director of Nutrition and Physical Activity, said in a telebriefing that nutrition is an even more pressing issue than smoking in the prevention of cancer.
“Right now, the majority of us don’t smoke, so the most important thing you can do [to prevent cancer] is exercise and eat right,” she advised.
Research also demonstrates that fruit and vegetable consumption reduces the rate of recurrence in cancer survivors.
Kim Stitzel, a science and medicine advisor at the American Heart Association, said that eating an extra cup of fruit and vegetables per day could help reduce coronary heart disease by four to five percent.
The connection between a lack of fruits and veggies and diabetes is also strong. Eighty percent of people are overweight when they are diagnosed with diabetes, noted Stephanie Dunbar, director of Nutrition and Clinical Affairs for the American Diabetes Association.
Despite the importance of fruits and vegetables in preventing disease, the report finds significant shortcomings in efforts to promote this food group:
— Marketing: The promotion of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables through advertising remains practically non-existent, at less than one percent of all food marketing.
— Nutrition education: Nutrition assistance programs devote only about one percent of their funding on education.
— School food: While more fruits and veggies are now being served in schools, there is still a long way to go before kids start getting–or eating–the servings they need.
— Federal spending: Fruits and vegetables should account for 40 percent of a recommended daily diet, yet only get 20 percent of what USDA spends on food initiatives, with meat and dairy getting more.
Despite these shortcomings, the alliance said some programs have shown progress over the past five years. These include the federally funded program that delivers snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables to children, as well as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food vouchers, which now allow for the purchase of fruits and vegetables.
The report zeroes in on what it says are the most important strategies for closing the fruit and vegetable consumption gap:
— Advertising fruit and vegetable products more heavily
— Increasing spending on nutrition education programs
— Aligning federal agriculture policy and spending with health policy and spending
— Supplying fruits and vegetables in an appealing way by making them attractive and ready-to-eat
— Offering more fruit and vegetable options in a more prominent place on restaurant menus, at grocery stores, at school, and in the workplace.
Whether the strategies laid forth in the plan will be put into place, or achieve success, remains to be seen. Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, says she hopes the upcoming “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act” will help promote some of these strategies if it is passed next week. The newest Farm Bill, if allocated in a manner consistent with the report’s recommendations, would also provide some of the funding necessary to achieve the goals.
To read the full National Action Plan 2010 Report Card, click here.
For more information on the fruit and vegetable consumption gap, go to https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/11/federal-spending-on-fruits-and-veggies-falls-short/.