Eating habits nowhere near guidelines

March 1, 2011

Fewer than a third of Americans consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

FEWER THAN A third of Americans consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, according to America's Health Rankings for 2010, an annual assessment by UnitedHealth Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Partnership for Prevention.

While America's Health Rankings for 2010 indicate overall healthiness improved slightly last year thanks to reductions in smoking, preventable hospitalizations and infectious disease, these gains were offset by continued increases in problems such as obesity and diabetes. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was included in the ranking shows fruit and vegetable consumption falls woefully short.

The economic and social issues underlying the problem are far ranging: fast food, busy parents, poor nutrition in schools and lack of affordable produce in certain rural towns and neighborhoods, just to name a few.

The diverse causes behind the problem underscore the need for action by stakeholders across the spectrum, Dr. Tuckson says.

"A tsunami of preventable chronic illnesses is going to wash over our already unaffordable healthcare delivery system," he says. "We're going to have an extraordinary number of people with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and it's going to be absolutely and totally unaffordable. We can't stay in our own silos. It's going to take a coalition to get at these issues."

Those coalitions are emerging and government, corporate and community groups are taking myriad approaches to address issues such as education, affordability and access. First Lady Michele Obama is spearheading Let's Move, a campaign to fight childhood obesity, the federal government recently passed legislation to make school lunches more nutritious.

Still, the challenges ahead are daunting.

"It's a long, long-term process to help people make the right choices," says Jud Richland, president and CEO, the Partnership for Prevention, "and it's going to take a multi-pronged approach."

-Shelly Reese