Still Life with Fruit

Too Few Fruits and Veggies, but Plenty of Talk

We are stuck in an infinite loop, it seems. Yet again, we have a new report in MMWR to tell us that Americans are eating too few fruits and veggies. In fact, only one in ten meet the recommendation in the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day. This very same headline has been on repeat for years now.

But for all the talk, it’s not clear that policymakers are really serious about changing the situation. These are practically the same observations published five years ago. The authors from CDC offer a predictable conclusion:

“Continued efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by improving access and affordability in diverse community and institutional settings will help mitigate health disparities among U.S. residents.”

Seriously? Keep on with the same old efforts that have brought no discernable progress? Does anyone really believe this will help?

Demographic Differences

We do note some differences in these dismal patterns by geographic and demographic groups. West Virginia does worst on fruit consumption – only eight percent meet the guidelines there. Twice as many meet the bar in top-ranked Connecticut. Kentucky is the worst on eating veggies, with less than six percent getting enough. The leader on veggies, Vermont, has 16 percent meeting guidelines. Still, all these numbers are sadly short of goals.

Looking at other groups, we can see that Hispanics do the best with fruit. Meanwhile, males do the worst. Older adults (> 50 years) do best with veggies, while people living with low incomes do the worst. Again, though, the percentage of any of these groups meeting guidelines is always less than 20.

Everywhere you look, too few people are eating enough fruits and veggies.

Are We Serious?

Something is clearly amiss. Could it be that the recommendations are just wildly unrealistic? Or are policymakers not serious about doing anything that will make a difference?

These researchers note that social conditions have much to do with the healthfulness of our dietary patterns. Food has always been an expression of identity, aspiration, and pleasure. Food is also a huge part of the global economy. But the money in the food economy flows toward foods that are convenient, tasty, branded, and often ultra-processed. Perhaps the emphasis should shift from individual behaviors to the social and economic systems that shape them.

Smart goals are realistic. But under present circumstances, the goals specified in Dietary Guidelines for Americans are clearly unrealistic. Nine out of ten people can’t meet them. Guidance so utterly out of touch with reality is neither helpful nor serious. Let’s get out of this infinity loop, because it is taking us nowhere.

Click here for the new study by CDC and here for perspective on more realistic and equitable approaches to dietary policies.

Still Life with Fruit, painting by Moise Kisling / WikiArt

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January 24, 2022