Health groups update awareness efforts

Prompted by fad diets and adjusted dietary guidelines, organizations revamp their healthy eating outreach

Prompted by fad diets and adjusted dietary guidelines, organizations revamp their healthy eating outreach

Given the pervasive headlines about the obesity endemic, the recent news from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) that Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables should not surprise anyone.

On March 19, the AJPM published a survey that found only 11% of the participants ate the recommended amount of both fruits and vegetables. The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research gathered the data from nearly 24,000 adults 18 and older.

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and diabetes rates among both adults and children are surging, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. An optimist might assume the effects of a poor diet would be incentive enough to choose apple slices instead of apple pie. But apparently, awareness campaigns are still needed to encourage proper fruit and vegetable consumption in the face of fad diets.

"Over the past 100 years, we've known how important fruits and vegetables are," says Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH). "More women working outside the home and people opting to do things with their time other than food preparation are just part of the issue."

The PBH has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a number of other health organizations to introduce "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters," a campaign promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables in all their forms: fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice. The group has created a public-private sector consortium in order to maximize outreach ability and scarce financial resources.

"More Matters" replaces the 15-year-old "5 A Day" talking points. That campaign has become inaccurate now that dietary guidelines use weight, height, and age as determining factors for fruit and vegetable consumption. In addition, the focus is now on cups of vegetables and fruits, rather than servings. The consortium expects this campaign to have a shelf life of 15 to 20 years.

"'5 A Day' [would have] had to change to '5 to 9 A Day,'" to be accurate, Pivonka says, "and people would have flipped had they heard '5 to 13 A Day.'"

"The whole idea is that no matter how many [fruits and vegetables] you're eating now, more will make a difference," says Mary Kay Solera, manager for the national fruit and vegetable program at the CDC. "The brand really puts it in a new light."

PBH is focusing heavily on reaching moms by placing tips like "Use leftover veggies for tomorrow's salad" on its Web site, fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Tips will also be placed prominently at supermarkets, with signage in different sections and stories in supermarket titles. The "More Matters" logo will also appear on food packaging.

There is also the "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters Challenge," which rewards two families that have the best fruit and veggie tips with a weekend of healthy cooking lessons at the Culinary Institute of America.

For its part, the CDC is working with states and the federal government on programs targeting such organizations as schools and the military. "Money [for marketing] can come and go, but when you have a community engaged, it may have more long-term success," says Solera.

The consortium and others hope the unhealthy choose vegetables over whatever fad diets are out there.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA), composed of 65,000 food and nutrition pros, just wrapped up March's National Nutrition Month, where it hosted grassroots events and offered advice, all in keeping with the theme "100% Fad Free."

"Fads have no staying power," says Susan Moores, an appointed spokeswoman with the ADA.

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