Fruit and Veggie Report Card Doesn't Look Good

If the marks were real, not many Americans would be promoted.

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By SHARE

You just flunked Fruits and Veggies 101, according to a report card released last week by the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance. The organization, a partnership of federal agencies and industry and consumer groups, examined Americans' produce progress over the last five years in 15 areas related to consumption. Here's a look at the report card:

A (met or exceeded goal)

Vouchers for fruits and vegetables. The federal Food and Nutrition Service, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, introduced veggie vouchers a few years ago in its Women, Infants, and Children program for low-income Americans. The NFVA would like to see even higher-value vouchers per person, but views this inclusion as "substantial progress."

"Fruits & Veggies—More Matters" campaign. Launched in 2007, the campaign targets moms, emphasizing the importance of healthy produce via a Web site, social networks, and state health departments.

Expansion of a school program. Funded by the federal government, the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program met its goal of providing fruits and vegetables to at least some schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It is hoped to expand to millions more students in the future, the NFVA says.

[6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Fruits and Veggies]

B (substantial progress)

National Institutes of Health nutrition and obesity research. Funding here increased, however projects specifically dedicated to fruits and vegetables grew only nominally between 2000 and 2008.

C (some progress)

Restaurants and fast-food chains. Both expanded their fruit and vegetable menu offerings, and moms reported in a survey that they could more easily get their kids to eat healthy foods at fast-food restaurants­—a "slight but positive movement," NFVA reports.

School food. À la carte vegetables, wellness policies, and programs promoting nutrition were more prevalent, but NFVA would like to see more salad bars and vending machines stocked with fruits and veggies.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget. Funding for the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity rose (good), but half of all states don't have CDC-funded nutrition and physical activity programs (bad).

D (minimal progress)

Promoting unhealthy foods to children. There's been a "modest shift" away from such advertising, but junk food is still heavily marketed to kids.

Children's fruit and vegetable consumption. Children 12 and under were the only age group that didn't flat-out flunk. Over the last five years, fruit consumption for kids under 6 rose 11 percent; veggie consumption increased 3 percent. But 88 percent of children 12 and under still don't get the fruit they should and 92 percent don't get the vegetables they need, NFVA reports.

Attention to disease prevention and wellness. Fewer than 15 percent of physicians' offices provide diet or nutrition advice, according to the report card.

Putting money into dietary priorities. The Agriculture Department doesn't spend nearly enough on fruits and vegetables in regard to providing subsidies to growers and funding research and programs, especially given the foods are so important to good health. Current spending should double, says NFVA cochair Elizabeth Pivonka.

F (no progress, or worsening)

Adult fruit and vegetable consumption. Flat overall. A modest rise was pulled down by lower consumption in adults age 65 and older, says Pivonka.

Ads for healthy foods. Declining. NFVA would like to see half of all food advertising focusing on fruits and vegetables.

Teen fruit and vegetable consumption. The number of high-school salad bars and vending machines offering fruits and veggies has declined and so has teen consumption, possibly due to peer pressure, Pivonka says.

Cost of inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption. In the last 10 years, the economic toll of poor health from eating too little produce nearly doubled to $56.2 billion, reports the NFVA.