The World Health Organization (WHO) cites low intake of fruits and vegetables as one of the top risk factors contributing to mortality from non-communicable diseases, hunger and micronutrient deficiencies. Researchers examining fruit and vegetable intake globally have found that populations are consuming less than half of the recommended minimum intake of 5 servings per day (400g of fresh weight equivalent). Global populations are consistently deficient in key nutrients such as folate, potassium, fiber, vitamin A, C, K and magnesium found in fruits and vegetables. Globally, people are more likely to adopt diets that include more meat, fats and refined cereals, and fewer traditional cereals, vegetables and fruit because of increasing urbanization and growing prosperity.
In the most recent report from the World Health Organization on mortality and burden of disease attributable to major risks (Global Health Risks), nearly 1.7 million deaths were attributed to low intake of fruits and vegetables globally in 2004 (Table A3 WHO report 2009). In that report, insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables was estimated to have caused 14% of stomach cancer deaths, 11% of ischemic heart disease deaths and about 9% of stroke deaths world wide. The primary health benefit identified as relating to fruit and vegetables intake is its impact on reducing cardiovascular disease but also on the reduction of risk of specific cancers.
Despite the well-known understanding that fruits and vegetables should be included in a healthy diet, Americans are still falling far short of the recommended intake. A recent report in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released Sept 10, 2010 shows that not a single state in the U.S. met the national Healthy People 2010 targets for fruit & vegetable consumption. The CDC report estimates that in 2009, about a third (32.5%) of adults in the U.S. consumed fruit two or more times a day, and just over a quarter (26.3%) consumed vegetables three or more times a day – both far less than national targets. These data were developed from the analysis of the CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and underscore the need for more drastic national, state, and community action to increase fruit and vegetable intake.
It is clear that more needs to be done to improve access, availability and affordability of fruits and vegetables. Some of the challenges the public health community faces are:
- How do we increase the fruit and vegetable food supply (our supply chain) with the limited and shrinking availability of agricultural land?
- How do we overcome the barriers such as accessibility, affordability, taste and convenience to consuming fruit and vegetables?
- How can we deliver the goodness of fruit and vegetables in minimally processed forms that deliver the positive health impact of whole fruits and vegetables?
- How can we educate people, starting at a young age about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and encourage children to make eating fruits and vegetables a lifetime habit?
At PepsiCo we are taking a new look at these complicated issues and subsequent blogs will address the challenges listed above. Are there any other issues that you, our readers, would like us to consider?