Blame the Subsidies: Americans Eating Half the Fruits and Veggies We Should
It isn’t news that kids in America aren’t eating as many fruits and veggies as they should be. According to a study on America’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, in 2009, children ages 2-17 consumed roughly three-quarters of a cup each of fruits and vegetables per day, falling short of the 1 to 2 cups of fruit and 1 to 3 cups of vegetables, depending on age, sex and level of physical activity, that the USDA recommends. Only 2% of kids consume the daily recommended servings of both fruits and veggies.
As it happens, September is Fruits & Veggies — More Matters month, making way for kids to get on track with their diets as they head back to school, where new federal nutrition guidelines are in place to encourage increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Why Kids (and Adults) Don’t Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
For some time now, public health advocates have criticized the distribution of farm subsidies for steering Americans away from fruits and vegetables, and a 2010 report released by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, which founded the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters initiative, suggests they may be right.
The report was a gap analysis examining “How Federal Spending Falls Short of Addressing Public Health Needs.” The problem is that USDA spending, especially on subsidies and research, does not align with USDA dietary guidelines.
Fruits and vegetables comprise 41.4% of USDA’s recommended servings among the five food groups, which also include grains (28.7% of recommended servings), meats (8.3%), dairy (12.7%) and fats and oils (8.9%). Yet in 2008, only 19.8% of USDA spending on food groups was allocated to fruits and vegetables.
A point of comparison: the average American consumes only half the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. “In other words,” the report notes, “USDA’s fruit and vegetable spending gap [41.4% versus 19.8%] closely tracks the U.S. fruit and vegetable consumption gap.” Coincidence? Far from it, and a solution is proposed.
“Since spending on subsidies authorized in the farm bill comprises about 50% of total food group specific spending and fruits and vegetables receive only 9.8% of those subsidies,” the report says, “reallocation of the farm bill budget offers one major opportunity for giving greater funding priority to fruit and vegetable programs.” If this money is reallocated appropriately, the theory goes, more Americans would eat more fruits and vegetables.
It’s an argument made time and again by public health advocates, but it’s also one that essentially goes unheeded by legislators given the politics in play. Backed by a powerful lobby, meat receives the lion’s share of subsidies among the food groups with 54.7%, even though it comprises only 8.3% of recommended servings.
More Fruits & Veggies for Kids at School
At least the USDA is starting to get it right in the nation’s schools. Before this school year, the standard serving of fruits and vegetables was one-half to three-quarters of a cup per day, combined.
Now, however, under new federal nutrition guidelines, schools will have to serve three-quarters of a cup to one cup of vegetables, plus one-half to one cup of fruit per day. In addition, schools are required to observe a weekly serving requirement for vegetable subgroups, including dark greens, reds/oranges, legumes and starches.
In years past, kids could take their lunch with no fruits or vegetables, but now they will be required to choose one or else pay full price for their meal. Whether or not they actually eat the apple or serving of spinach is another question, which is why many schools have been developing recipes, training staff and reconfiguring the cafeteria lunch line to encourage consumption of those items as best they can. Some schools have contracted with food service management companies.
More Fruits & Veggies for Kids at Home
Of the servings of fruits and vegetables kids do eat, most are consumed at home. The Fruits & Veggies — More Matters website offers a number of resources and suggestions for getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
In Top 10 Ways to Get Kids Involved in Healthy Cooking & Shopping, the website suggests playing “I Spy” in the produce section or letting kids select a new fruit or vegetable to take home and try. For food prep at home, younger kids can wash, tear (lettuce leaves, for example) and measure ingredients, while older ones can peel and chop. For cooking with kids, the website offers several kid-friendly recipes like Banana in a Boat and Crazy, Curly Broccoli Bake.
“I’m Stuck on Fruits & Veggies” is one activity you can do with your kids, where they collect the PLU stickers from each piece of fruit or vegetable they eat at home and place them on a chart, which, when filled, earns them a special reward. There’s also a kids’ website, FoodChamps.org, with games that feature fruits and vegetables.
In observance of Fruits & Veggies — More Matters month this September, what will you do to increase your and your kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables?
Photo Credit: Sam Howzit