Yesterday we participated in a conference call hosted by Produce for Better Health Foundation, discussing how America has progressed in produce consumption over the past decade. A distinguished panel presented quite a grim picture:
- America’s fruit and vegetable consumption remains far below recommended levels
- Only 8% of us reach our fruit goals.
- Only 6% reach the veggie goals.
- While we eat a third of our food away from home, those meals account for only 11% of fruit & veggie consumption.
- Eight of the states with the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption are also in the top 10 states with the highest obesity rates.
These numbers are even sadder given that fruit and vegetables include not just fresh produce but also frozen, canned, cooked, and also 100% juice (which we think is a grave mistake).
The National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance was created in 2001 with a goal to increase consumption of produce. Nine years later, it appears nothing really changed. You can read the full report card [PDF], but it’s like having a kid who funked first grade come home.
There is some silver lining. Kids are consuming slightly more fruit and vegetables than 10 years ago. Fast food establishments are offering fruit for dessert. Unfortunately, it’s a tiny improvement.
What you need to know:
“A diet high in fruits and vegetables helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of several serious, chronic diseases. The NFVA report card illustrates the continued need to make our homes, worksites and communities places where the choice of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables becomes the easiest choice,” said William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “We need to continue our effort in making the healthy choice the easy choice.”
So why are so many Americans failing?
Many reasons exist for this poor performance. Junk food is cheaper than fruit and vegetables. It has better shelf life, it has been engineered to taste good, and is marketed to consumers relentlessly.
Another reason is that many people perceive fruits and vegetables as dull tasting and boring. This is not untrue. Produce in this country is designed for extended shelf-life and size, not taste. Visit Europe and you’ll see apples half the size of ours, but boy do they taste good!
Lastly, there is a marketing issue. Since there is no processing to be done, fruits and veggies are commodities. They cannot be branded. And if you can’t brand something, how can you market it?
Comparing the marketing budget of even a medium sized food company to that of government and non-profit organizations pushing produce is an exercise in futility. When was the last time you saw a commercial for kale? An orange (not OJ)?
All the above issues tie in to one main problem, which was succinctly pointed out in the conference call is as follows:
US agriculture policy is NOT aligned with US health policy!
See the spending chart above. Subsidies are going to feed the cows, chickens, and hogs that will become our meat, not to fruits and vegetables.
Will the government fix this? Not if the usual agriculture / fast food lobbies will have their say. America wants it meat for cheap, that’s what they’ll say, while making sure the politicians they support keep their seats warm in Congress.
What to do at the supermarket:
Don’t wait for the government to help you get healthy. Buy fruits and vegetables. Have them prominently located on the kitchen counter or in the living room. Wash, peel and cut something every afternoon for the kids while they’re watching TV. Set a good example by preparing and eating produce several times a day. And if you don’t like the taste of supermarket produce, find a local farmer that you can buy from directly.
We’re doing our share by reminding users of the fooducate iphone app to consider fruit as a snack option (see screenshot below)