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Do Fruit and Vegetables Need a Marketing Makeover?

Do Fruit and Vegetables Need a Marketing Makeover?

With a new wide reaching study stressing the importance of getting our five fruits and vegetables a day, one food expert believes it’s time to take marketing tips from the big drug companies on how we sell healthy foods.

The study, published in July in the British Medical Journal, is a meta analysis of 16 cohort studies that involved more than 830,000 participants in total from the United States, Asia and Europe, making it one of the most in depth pieces of research to ever look at whether the five-a-day recommendation really does lead to health benefits like lower heart disease risk, lower cancer rates and, ultimately, lower mortality rates.

Analyzing the diets, health and mortality information of the population samples, the U.S. and Chinese researchers found that each serving of fruit and vegetables consumed per day lowered the chance of mortality as a result of common health problems like heart disease by, on average, five percent.

However, while previous studies have shown that there might be benefits to eating in excess of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, this new meta analysis found that the benefits appear to stop at five portions, with no extra benefits after that. The exact reason why the benefit of fruit and vegetables should plateau at five-a-day isn’t clear, but scientists do have a few theories.

“For the reduction in total mortality, we found a threshold of around five servings a day of fruit and vegetables, after which the risk of death did not reduce further,” the authors are quoted as saying. “Possible mechanisms might involve the availability of nutrients and the digestibility of fruit and vegetables, but further studies are needed to confirm our results.”

The research revealed something else too. While for every other examined health complaint the five-a-day diet had a positive impact, the same couldn’t be said for cancer. It didn’t matter how many fruit or vegetables people ate, it seemed to make no difference to their risk of cancer — though it would be interesting for future studies to examine whether the five-a-day diet has an impact on the likelihood of surviving cancer or the recovery time.

This is being called an important analysis because it helps to solidify that, at the very least, that five-a-day recommendation is sound. The problem is, most people aren’t even eating two or three portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

With that in mind, Catherine Collins, principal dietitian at St George’s Hospital in London who wasn’t connected to this study, told the BBC Radio 4′s Today program that she believes we should be marketing the five-a-day diet more like drug companies market the benefits of their products:

“If this was a drug and you said, if you take this drug, it will reduce your risk of premature death by 25 percent, we would be making millions.”

That could be money given back to local farmers and pumped back into health care services, as well as ultimately alleviating the health burden that our medical services face as a result of our poor diets. Of course, there’s a lot to dislike about the marketing techniques some drug companies employ, but the basic point seems sound. Fortunately, we have more homegrown examples of how to potentially market the five-a-day diet: namely, the idea of superfoods.

We now know that the superfood spiel is misleading for the fact that it does a disservice to the rest of the fruits and vegetables not currently in vogue that offer great nutritional profiles and benefits. Nevertheless, there is a lesson here: we have seen the superfood label quickly catch on and make some foods, like blueberries and quinoa, staples of healthy living books, blogs and even supermarket food campaigns.

If we could ensure that we lead with facts and not hard-to-define slogans, there’s no reason to think that we couldn’t replicate those results with other fruit and vegetables, and indeed with the five-a-day diet, while remaining truthful about what fruits and vegetables can and can’t do for us. Throwing money into marketing campaigns that specifically highlight the benefits of fruit and vegetables would not only improve our health, but our sense of well-being too — and that, really, is money well spent.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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57 comments

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8:09PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Instead of 'marketing' good food, forbid the marketing of any food except on internet food sites. No bill boards , commercials on TV or magazines, inserts, ect. The idea is to save paper,advertising money for the businesses and clean up the road spaces.And maybe if pictures of food weren't plastered all over, people wouldn't be constantly focused on it and artificially stimulating their apitites. Worth a try.

9:27PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Love fresh fruit , wonder if it has more to do with parents introducing their children in a positive way to fruits and veggies ....

8:10PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

One of our favourite desserts at home was always fresh fruit. We also grew a lot of our own organic veggies and some fruits (although a tropical climate would have been appreciated, some fruit won't grow in our colder zone). When my Dad signed the mortgage for the house, one of the provisions was that one had to grow a veggie garden, which is a good idea for where we lived.

Sorry, basic, not basis in my last comment.

8:07PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

When I was growing up, we always had fruit available, no one needed a marketing makeover to convince us to eat what is good for us. Maybe a basis nutrition course for all students?

Agreed, Sue H, Kamia T, heather g and sheila c.

7:24PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Make junk food expensive and lower cost of fresh fruits and veggies. Have little fast meal menu cards for free in the produce section that features sale items. Have specials already 'pre-packaged' like the salads but maybe veggie casseroles, fruit packaged with yoghurt for 'smoothie quick fix' ... its all about making it creative, appealing and cost effective for the consumer to catch on!

1:51AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Thank you for sharing.

8:04PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

interesting

3:44AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

3:38AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

Thanks for sharing

8:48PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

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