Despite growing public awareness about the importance of diet in preventing chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, Americans are not consuming any more fruits and vegetables than they were a decade ago. A recent state-by-state analysis by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) using data from telephone surveys found that in 2009, fewer than one-third of Americans eat two or more daily servings of fruit, and just over one-quarter eat the three or more daily servings of vegetables. In fact, since 2000, overall fruit and vegetable consumption has been on a flat-to-downward trend.
The government’s Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption aim to have 75% of Americans consuming at least two daily servings of fruit and at least 50% of people consuming at least three daily servings of vegetables. In the last decade, the percentage of Americans consuming 2 servings per day of fruit dropped from 34.4 to 32.5 percent. Not one state met either target consumption level in 2009, with a downward trend actually occurring in 22 states. Moreover, the Healthy People 2010 objectives are still far below the USDA’s recommended servings of fruits and vegetables for average healthy Americans.
Although individual peoples’ needs may vary, for average healthy Americans, the USDA recommends 4 servings (2 cups) of fruit daily – preferably from whole fruit with beneficial fiber – rather than from fruit juice. In addition, they suggest 5 servings of vegetables, including dark green leafy and deep orange veggies, listed by type on the MyPyramid.gov site.
The survey results point to a great deal of variation in consumption among states, which may indicate inconsistencies in access, availability, or affordability. The CDC notes that community-wide interventions with local, state, and national support will be necessary to address these possible barriers. Unfortunately, most states do not have advisory councils on food policy and many states have few farmers markets that are set up to accept payment via Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp, benefits. As the CDC data clearly shows, previous government-led initiatives to promote intake of “5-A-Day” servings of fruits and vegetables have largely been unsuccessful.
On a brighter note, the CDC has recently produced guidelines on strategies to increase fruit and vegetable intakes and does provide financial assistance to 25 states. New initiatives such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign and the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program are working diligently to connect consumers with local farmers and to create community-level and family-focused interventions, state by state. Clearly, to be successful, initiatives must involve a teamwork approach joining the efforts of the agriculture, business, and food policy industries, as well as those in health care.
You can gradually make positive changes in your diet and the USDA’s interactive website offers tips for increasing the servings of fruits and vegetables. Diligence and a little daily effort go a long way toward reaching healthy diet goals and reducing the risks of diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other serious health concerns brought on by a typical Western diet. Remember, discovering new foods and trying new recipes is fun. If you see a vegetable you are unfamiliar with while shopping, pick one up and give it a try!