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WILMINGTON, Del. - Despite being told for years of the health benefits of eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, most Americans still aren't consuming enough produce, according to a recent study conducted by ACNielsen for Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), based here.
Aside from the fact that Americans are not eating anywhere near five or more servings per day, the new study also shows that more than half of Americans aren't even aware of how many servings of fruits and vegetables they should be consuming daily as part of a healthy diet.
The survey's findings indicate that PBH still has its work cut out for it, despite having promoted produce consumption and trying to raise consumer awareness of produce's links to health for more than dozen years.
"We are proud to have more than quadrupled awareness of 5 A Day since the beginning of the program in 1991, but clearly we still have much to do," Lori Baer, PBH's v.p. of corporate communications, told Progressive Grocer. "This need is fueling an intense effort to make the 5 A Day The Color Way program succeed in motivating people to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables every day," Baer added.
The ACNielsen survey, of more than 3,000 households nationwide, found that more than 50 percent of parents are feeding their children only two or fewer fruit and vegetable servings per day, and only 12 percent of Americans are eating the daily recommended 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables.
Of households with children ages one to four, just 12 percent claim to be feeding their children 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In households with children ages seven to 11, that number drops to 10 percent.
The research provides some helpful hints for parents, showing that snack time may be an excellent opportunity for them to offer fruits and vegetables to their children, according to Baer, who added that 71 percent of those surveyed responded that they would be most likely to eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks.
"Snack time is a perfect opportunity for parents to be good role models for their children," said Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, a dietitian and president of PBH. "Yet despite research showing that parents are the most important influence over what and where their children eat, only 16 percent of Americans encourage their children to switch to a healthy lifestyle through role modeling."
The report also called into question the commonly held belief that everyone knows they should eat more fruits and vegetables, showing that only 40 percent of Americans surveyed recognized the need for 5 or more daily servings. Still, yet another study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that just six items account for nearly half of the fruits and vegetables eaten by most Americans, demonstrating that most American diets lack variety.
"These results reinforce the need to continue educating the public on the health benefits associated with diets rich in fruits and vegetables and encourage them to build their consumption with a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables every day," noted Pivonka. "With the increasing popularity of dozens of separate diet plans, people are confused about what to eat. Now more than ever, it's important for families to understand that a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and moderate in fat and cholesterol intake, is critical in the fight against obesity."
That is the concept behind PBH's 5 A Day The Color Way campaign, which was developed as an easy-to-remember tool that provides encouragement for families to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables through colorful recipes and educational tools. Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables from the five color categories -- blue/purple, orange/yellow, green, white and red -- is a guideline to ensure that daily serving recommendations are met.
The Color Way campaign provides detailed information about specific phytochemicals in each color group that offer bebefits such as helping maintain memory function and vision health, and aiding in the prevention of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
-- Meg Major