The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least two cups of fruits and three cups of vegetables daily for adults who get less than 30 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical each day. However, not many Americans are heeding those words, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
Researchers analyzed the most recent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compared the data — all self-reported — with federal requirements. They found that half of the respondents consumed fruits and vegetables less than once and twice a day, respectively. In the United States, 13 percent of people met the requirements for fruit and vegetable consumption.
The report said the number of residents at the state level who ate vegetables ranged from 5.5 percent to 13 percent, with Mississippi and California standing at both extremes. Residents of Tennessee consumed fruit the least while nearly 18 percent of their counterparts in the Golden State followed the national dietary guidelines. The authors of the study said that the data excluded people living in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, military installations and correctional institutions.
Even so, the data shows signs that Americans have a long way to go in developing healthy habits that go a long way in curbing obesity and preventing a host of chronic diseases. Last year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology predicted that obesity would surpass cancer as the leading cause of death within a matter of years.
“All types of fruits and vegetables count, but the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most of our fruit intake come from whole fruit rather than fruit juice and that we eat fruits and vegetables that have limited amounts of added sugars and solid fat,” lead author Latetia V. Moore told Fox News. “The guidelines also recommend that we increase our intake of dark green and orange vegetables as well as beans.”
Health experts contend that a balanced diet that includes bread, fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish in tandem with physical activity can keep people in shape, reduce obesity and the likelihood of cancer. Specifically, fruits and vegetables have no cholesterol and are low in fat and calories. They’re also an important source of potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C. The dietary fibers from vegetables reduce blood cholesterol levels and lowers risk of heart disease. Fruits and vegetables also contain nutrients that keep eyes and skin, teeth, and gums healthy while protecting against infections.
For more than 49 million people living in low-income communities with high food insecurity, heeding those words may be easier said than done, especially as a result of food stamp cuts that went into effect this year. In these urban and rural enclaves known as food deserts”>food deserts, people live more than one mile away from full-service grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers, giving them few, if any, nutritious food choices. For low-income Americans, the lack of proper cooking facilities and reliable transportation options exacerbates this dilemma.
Cheap, prepackaged foods high in sugar and sodium — often purchased in convenience stores and gas stations — remain commonplace in low-income homes. The fast food industry has caught wind of the opportunities that await in America’s low-income enclaves. An Arizona State University study exposed its overzealous marketing tactics to children — including indoor play areas at fast food franchises, display of kids’ meal toys, and large advertisements with movie characters. The soda industry has followed suit, aggressively targeting black and Latino children with ads that promotes soda, fruit juice, and energy drinks — employing tactics that predatory lending companies use on low-income, minority companies.
In recent years, those in the public health realm have increasingly realized this, shifting conversations about obesity and diet to the issue of food insecurity and other external factors that determine eating habits. Lawmakers passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized funding and set policy for the United States Department of Agriculture’s food programs. The federal government later followed up with its Healthy Food Financing Initiative — $500 million in grants that encourage local businesses to set up shop in food deserts.
“No matter which way you look at it, [the American diet] is so not healthy and really just unsustainable,” panel member Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, said at a July meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group of health and nutrition experts that’s compiling the new dietary recommendations.
But reversing current trends and encouraging healthy eating habits requires going beyond public policy. Previous research has designated education level and food preferences as greater indicators: the disparity in healthy food intake between college-educated households and those with high school diploma holders stands at 10 percent.