American eating habits: how much does money have to do with it?

Opinion piece by Cindy Farricker, MS, RD, CDE

A “teaser” for the nightly news broadcast on the last day of September was “Not one US state is meeting the national objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption”.  The news headline came from a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on September 29th, “State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2009”  accessed September 30, 2009.

Most of us are aware that Americans have a history of not eating enough fruits and vegetables. The government has tried to encourage us to eat more through their “Five a Day” campaign now replaced by “Fruits and Vegetables Matter”, both from the Centers for Disease Control.

It must have come as a great disappointment to the CDC when they learned that, according to their report, not even one state had met the recommended guidelines of consuming at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.  These guidelines were part of Healthy People 2010, which was published nearly 9 years ago (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010: Understanding and Improving Health. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2000). The goal outlined in Health People 2010 for fruit and vegetable consumption was to aim for at least 75 percent of Americans to eat the recommended 2 daily servings of fruit and 50 percent to eat the recommended 3 or more servings of vegetables daily.  The CDC’s survey found that only 33% of adults ate the recommended fruit and 27 percent at the recommended vegetables servings per day.

I have to wonder if the money invested in promoting the government’s health messages is simply dwarfed by the money spent on food advertising.  To put this in perspective from the most recent data I could locate, in 2006 it is estimated that 7.8 billion was spent on food advertising (taken from data published by Advertising Age’s Global Marketers, 16 November 2007), as compared to 720 million (0.72 billion) spent by the CDC on chronic disease prevention and health promotion Office of Budget, US Department of Health and Human Services. FY 2006 Budget in Brief. Available at: accessed October 1, 2009. One has to wonder what the effect would be on our consumption habits if we, as consumers, saw the fruit and vegetable message as often as we saw the other food ads.

To see how your state faired….

Behavioral Indicators
Adult Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Map

Percentage of U.S. adults aged ≥ 18 years who consumed fruit two or more times per day  & vegetables three or more times per day, by state.
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2007

Range (8.8% to 20.1%)

To read the full article by the CDC click here.