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.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
September 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: General Health , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity
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