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CDC report paints bleak picture of fruit and vegetable consumption

by Tim Linden | October 04, 2009
Only about 14 percent of U.S. adults and less than 10 percent of teenagers are consuming at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables on a daily basis, according to a new report just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heidi Blanck, a CDC senior scientist and lead author of the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2009, agreed that this report reflected "dismal data."

The report summarizes data for fruit and vegetable consumption using a survey of 100,000 teenagers in 2007, as well as extensive phone interviews with adults. Dr. Blanck said that the report shows that the country will fall far short of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 initiative that aims to have 75 percent of the U.S. population meeting the daily fruit recommendations and 50 percent meeting the daily vegetable recommendations.

This CDC report broke down consumption on a state-by-state basis as well as released national figures. Nationally, only 33 percent of adults are meeting the recommendation for fruit consumption and 27 percent are meeting the vegetable recommendation, with only 14 percent meeting both. For teenagers the numbers are even worse: 32 percent of them report eating at least two fruit servings a day and only 13 percent say they report at least three vegetable servings each day. On average, only 9.5 percent of these teenagers meet the original benchmark in both categories each day. While some states did much better than others, only the District of Columbia had even as much as 20 percent of its adult residents meeting the guidelines, checking in at 20.2 percent. Mississippi took up the rear with less than 10 percent of its population meeting the goal.

Dr. Blanck said the CDC used the U.S. original dietary recommendations that were set a decade ago. Since then the U.S. dietary guidelines have taken a more personal approach with consumption recommendations ranging from five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables depending upon other factors. It is clear from this data that even a smaller percentage of U.S. consumers reach those dietary recommendations.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president for the Produce for Better Health Foundation told The Produce News that the numbers are not surprising, but basically show that we have a long way to go.

Ms. Pivonka believes the efforts of the industry to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption through commodity promotions as well as the two- decade-old Five a Day program have been successful in at least keeping consumption figures at their current level. I think we have done a good job of keeping consumption levels from going down and weve registered a slight increase but we all need to do more.

In fact, PBH has been formally exploring the need for a national fruit and vegetable promotion program that would take a more active approach in generically pushing the increased consumption of the products. Ms. Pivonka said this CDC data could be used to argue that this national program is sorely needed. There will be a town hall-type seminar session devoted to the promotion concept at the Produce Marketing Association convention in Anaheim, CA, Oct. 2-5. Some people have questioned whether the proposed $30 million annual program would be sufficient to move the consumption needle at all. We dont know the answer to that, said the PBH president. There have been promotion programs that have been successful with that amount of money. With the Internet and other marketing avenues it is cheaper now to run a successful promotion program than it once was. I dont think we will have the answer to whether we can be successful until we try it.

The CDC report also looked at the concept of increasing consumption and pointed to public policy and environmental strategies that could be employed to try to help Americans reach the countrys dietary guidelines. The report detailed the number of farmers markets and supermarkets that are in each state indicating that there is a connection between the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and consumption. Dr. Blanck expects the report to be used by individual states to create strategies that will increase access to fruits and vegetables by the various constituencies they serve.