From Our 2010 Archives

Low Grades in U.S. for Eating Fruits and Veggies

Report Says Americans Aren't Making Enough Progress in Adding Fruits and Vegetables to Their Diet

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 17, 2010 -- Five years after the launch of a national initiative aimed at getting us to eat more fruits and vegetables, Americans are barely getting a passing grade.

There has been some progress in improving access to fruits and vegetables, but it's not translating into Americans eating more of them -- the ultimate goal of the 2005 National Action Plan to Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. The plan was developed by the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance, which is co-chaired by the CDC and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Only 6% of us eat enough vegetables and just 8% of us eat enough fruit every day, according to information cited in the new report card, which was released today.

"We have seen some improvement over the past five years and are moving in the right direction, but in terms of a macro grade for our country in increasing fruits and vegetable consumption, I would give us a D or a D minus," says Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit foundation in Hockessin, Del., that encourages Americans to eat more fruits and vegetable. "We need to do far more to stop the negative trend."

Boosting Access to Fruits and Vegetables

The group calls for changes at the federal, state, school, and family level to boost access to fruits and vegetables including adding more salad bars in schools and adding more fruits and vegetables to menus in restaurants and workplace cafeterias, she says.

Parents can also do their part at home to encourage eating of fruits and vegetables. Pivonka says. "Have them readily available on the table or in the refrigerator, and involve kids in growing, selecting, or preparing fruits and vegetables and by setting a good example."

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high level and obesity-related diseases normally only seen in adults are now being diagnosed in children. There is momentum in getting kids to eat more fruit and vegetables, but 88% don't eat their daily recommended amount of fruit and 92% don't eat their daily recommended amount of vegetables, the new report card shows.

"Ultimately what we are looking to do is increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and we are making progress, but are we making a difference in what people are eating? I'd give us a D to an F, depending on the subgroup," says Laurence Grummer-Strawn, PhD, the chief of the nutrition branch at the CDC in Atlanta.

All the grades weren't bad. There were a few A's doled out in the new report card, including A's for efforts to expand the program that provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks in schools, and introducing vouchers for fruits and vegetables as part of the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, as well as the launch of "Fruits & Veggies: More Matters" education campaign.

Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

Experts agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best way to prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

"Eating well, exercising, and weight control are the most important things we can do to reduce our cancer risk," says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, the nutrition director of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "Our most important strategy for cancer prevention is improving the diet largely through fruit and vegetable consumption."

It is important to eat whole fruits and vegetables as opposed to individual supplements. "They are packed with so many different phytochemicals and antioxidants, and it is really not clear which ones have the health benefits," she says. "Our advice is to eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day to reduce your risk of cancer."

This advice can also benefit cancer survivors, she says

"Being overweight is the leading modifiable risk factor for people with type 2 diabetes," says Stephanie Dunbar MS, RD, the director or nutrition and clinical affairs at the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va. "A dietary pattern [in which] more than half of the diet is fruit and vegetables plays a critical role in preventing type 2 diabetes by assisting with weight management."

Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutrition for WebMD, agrees. "Fruits and vegetables are Mother Nature's finest. They are super nutritious, loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and naturally fat free [and] should be the foundation of everyone's diet," she says. "As a nation fighting the obesity battle, we need look no further than the produce section to arm ourselves with healthy food that tastes delicious, is filling, easy and very low in calories."

SOURCES: National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance: "National Action Plan to Promote Health Though Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. 2010 Report Card."Kathleen M Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutrition, WebMD.Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, nutrition director, American Cancer Society.Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president, Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del.Laurence Grummer-Strawn, PhD, chief, nutrition branch, CDC.Stephanie Dunbar, MS, RD, director of nutrition and clinical affairs, American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, Va.

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