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Can the government get us to eat our veggies?

I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about the Centers for Disease Control's report showing that American adults' consumption of fruits and vegetables falls way below the modest goals set forth in the Healthy People 2010 initiative -- despite that initiative's efforts to encourage more of us to eat those foods.

In short, the report found that "in 2009, an estimated 32.5% of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3% consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets."

Eating fruits and vegetables is considered key to maintaining good health and a healthy weight. To that end, the federal Healthy People program, the current version of which launched in 2000, aimed to get 75 percent of Americans age 2 and up to eat two servings of fruit and 50 percent to eat three servings of vegetables daily.

That effort fell flat, at best. In a state-by-state survey of people's self-reported fruit and vegetable consumption, no state even came close to that goal. While many states' percentages remained largely unchanged since 2000, several states -- including Maryland -- saw decreases in the number of people meeting the goal. The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of folks eating two servings of fruit a day -- 40.2 percent -- and was one of a handful of jurisdictions that saw a slight rise in vegetable consumption.

Of course, the survey only counted adults; maybe the kids are doing a better job of eating their peaches and peas.

Still, the report is bad news indeed for those of us who care about nutrition. But as much as I do care, I'm taken aback by the authors' conclusion:

A number of previous initiatives to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables in the United States have included individual approaches, such as the Fruits and Veggies -- More Matters campaign and single-setting interventions, such as community gardens or farmers market voucher programs. Despite these initiatives, fruit and vegetable consumption is lower than recommended. Thus, intensified, multisector (e.g., agriculture, business, food industry, and health care) and multisetting (e.g., worksite, school, child care, and community) approaches are necessary to facilitate healthier choices among all persons in the United States.

I don't quite follow the "Thus" part of this argument. It seems to me that an effort that's so clearly failed might be taken not as fodder for continued interventions but rather as evidence that government intervention may not be the answer to America's nutrition woes.

The Healthy People initiative, first launched in 1980 and updated ever 10 years since, has had some big successes. For instance, it set out to raise life expectancies, and it has achieved that goal, as this 2005 mid-term report shows.

In this interview, a CDC official suggests that the Healthy People 2020 initiative that's due this fall will shift focus from simply encouraging people to eat fruits and vegetables to taking steps to make such foods easily available to people. Maybe that will work; certainly it's a good idea to make such healthful foods more accessible to kids, anyway.

But perhaps the program is better suited to some tasks than to others. Healthy People 2010 included 467 specific objectives, including the ones for fruit consumption and for vegetable consumption. Maybe future iterations should rein the initiative in and concentrate on areas where it's been demonstrated to be effective.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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I think shifting the focus to making fruits and veggies more accessible is a great one. If the fruits and veggies aren't easily accessible or available OR if the fruits and veggies can't compete with the price of other types of food (such as junk food), people often will choose the less expensive food. DUH.

If we stop subsidizing big commodity crops like corn and soy, cheap and pervasive junk foods made with all kinds of corn and soy derivatives might not be so prevalent and thus consumed. How about even-ing out the long lop-sided playing field by subsidizing local production of small-scale and sustainably raised foods. Making those types of foods more easy accessed and cheaper will go a long way towards improving the health of Americans. As well as increasing Americans' consumption of fruits and veggies.

Posted by: SMON | September 13, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

We need to take a multi-faceted approach for people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Accessibility and education are the biggest keys.

A huge challenge right now is MD protocol, that basically mandates pharmaceutical chemicals, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation while it suppresses or bypasses known remedies utilizing unprocessed organic vegan and raw foods that actually work in reversing numerous illnesses without the invasive and dangerous mandates. Where is funding for research programs that support the natural cures known to work?

However, there is "light at the end of the tunnel" when one realizes how many MDs are now re-educating themselves to understand more about the beneficial effects of proper nutrition in reversing disease.

Staying off junk foods and drugs is a challenge when one watches Media advertisements, endorsements, and/or shows designed to entice people to use these products.

Another key approach would be suggesting our elders get off the highly dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. These can sometimes lead to severe side effects as bad or worse than what they are designed to treat. These would be replaced with natural food groups and often highly tasty food grade herbs known to reverse illnesses that drugs otherwise prescribed to "cure"...???

The best scenario: Use common sense while researching proven ways that often cost much less than conventional medical procedure yet work extremely well when approached with understanding. - Dennis Knicely, Editor/Publisher

Posted by: HealingNews | September 13, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

We cannot appreciate vegetables while eating a diet full of sugar. Remove (or really cut back) on sugar for a week, then eat a carrot. It is so sweet. (so are sweet potatoes and winter squashes). However eat a lot of junk food (let's face it cheap, easy and convenient) and one craves sugar and the vegetables do not taste as sweet.
Solution is not easy.

Posted by: mmad2 | September 13, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The disparities I see in grocery stores in the Macon, Georgia area is severe. In low income areas there is plenty of meat, potatoes, breads, milk, juice, canned vegatables, and canned fruit. What is missing is the fresh vegatable and fruit choices of the upper middle income and higher income areas. If you talk to the people in the low income areas, you get to realize they know about the benefits of fresh vegatables and fruits. They cannot get to them economically, in terms of time or transportation funds. Some attempts at providing locally produced fruits and vegatables at farmers markets have been tried, but they are very small in scope. I can say that when fresh fruit and vegatables, of good quality at reasonable prices is available, all income levels will buy more. The other thng we as a nation need to do is to end the corn subsidy that promotes corn syrup use. I have heard all the studies from the corn syrup industry about how it is no different than real sugar from sugar cane or natural juice. That is NOT true. It tastes different, it acts different in cooking, and it messes up the taste of real juice when used to create juice cocktails. The taste of real 100% natural grape juice is vastly different than grape juice cocktails made with corn syrup. The same goes for pear juice, peach juice, apple juice, nectarine juice and plum juice. Add corn syrup and the taste is significantly influenced by the excess sweetness of the corn syrup.

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Posted by: strade24 | September 13, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Maybe if fruits and vegetables were more affordable, people would eat more. The fact is that you can spend the same amount getting 3 meals a day at McDonalds as you would getting a daily serving of fruits and vegetables, only one will keep you full and the other won't. The decline makes sense considering the recession.

If the government wants people to eat more fruits and vegetables, they should stop subsidizing corn (corn syrup) and start subsidizing vegetables and fruits. The fact that, in this country, a peach costs more than a pack of twinkies is a disgrace.

Posted by: piginspandex | September 13, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what the answer is here either but I know cost is a big problem for so many. When they don't have much money, what they earn goes towards the cheapest they can buy to feed their family. I don't like this either - but something needs done in order to make it more affordable! We have our own garden and eats lots of produce and our favorite whole grains are Kamut wheat and quinoa! I always make a special effort to pinch pennies where I can in order to get these things for our family.

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | September 16, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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