Health

Despite All Info Out There, Eating in U.S. Remains Unhealthy

| by National Institutes of Health

Most Americans don't eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, says a U.S. government study released Tuesday. And no state has achieved national objectives for consumption of fruits and vegetables, it found.

The goal for the Healthy People 2010 program is to get at least 75 percent of Americans to eat the recommended two or more daily servings of fruit and for at least 50 percent of Americans to consume three or more daily servings of vegetables.

But surveys from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only 33 percent of adults meet the fruit consumption target and only 27 percent eat the recommended amount of vegetables. The statistics are worse for high school students -- only 32 percent eat the recommended amount of fruit and 13 percent meet the goal for vegetables.

"A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, all of which currently contribute to health care costs in the United States," Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said in a CDC news release.

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"This report will help states determine what is taking place in their communities and schools and come up with ways to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables," Dietz said.

The report -- the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009 -- is the first to detail state-by-state data about fruit and vegetable consumption and policies that may help boost fruit and vegetable consumption.

It spotlights three important policy and environmental areas associated with fruit and vegetable consumption: healthier food retail, availability of healthier foods in schools, and food system support.

Food stores that stock a variety of high-quality fruits and vegetables can play a key role in residents' health, the report notes. But only eight states have a policy for healthier food retail improvements that can increase the number of full-service grocery stores in areas where they're lacking, increase the availability of healthier foods in small food stores, and promote healthier foods by providing information to consumers in food stores.

Schools can influence better eating by students, staff, parents and other members of the community. But the report found that only 21 percent of U.S. middle schools and high schools offer fruits and non-fried vegetables in vending machines, school stores or snack bars. Fewer than half the states (21) have policies to support farm-to-school programs that can increase access to fruits and vegetables and teach students about nutrition and agriculture.

The report also mentioned food policy councils, which are organizations that look at access to fresh produce at the community and state levels. Food policy councils make recommendations about policies and programs such as community gardens, farmers' markets, availability of fresh produce in supermarkets and farm-to-school programs. Currently, 59 local food policy councils operate across the United States, and 20 states have a state-level food policy council.

"We have seen the tremendous benefit of state and local officials, health professionals, employers, food store owners, farmers, school staff, and community members working together on food and nutrition issues," CDC epidemiologist Heidi Michels Blanck said in the news release. "Their efforts can help to increase the availability of affordable healthier food choices such as fruits and vegetables."