CDC map suggests U.S. is no veggie nation

Fred Wilkinson, Managing Editor
Fred Wilkinson
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently released State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2013 provides state-by-state and other demographic information on fruit and vegetable consumption.
Its findings suggest Americans have a ways to go to reach the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “half your plate” fresh produce dietary standard.  Or maybe Americans are eating off of tiny plates.
At first glance, the report’s “median daily vegetable intake among U.S. adults” map’s color-coded shading of states from light to dark green looks like it details wide swings in consumption.
On closer examination, it becomes apparent the map is afflicted with the dreaded disease Tiny Details Exaggeration Syndrome.
Although it sports five shades of green, with lightest to darkest representing lowest to highest vegetable intake, the range in daily servings consumed represented is negligible, with median consumption ranging from “less than 1.5 “servings per day to “more than 1.8.”
The study finds the average U.S. adult eats fruit about 1.1 times per day and vegetables about 1.6 times per day.
In other words, Americans on average eat a piece of fruit daily and a vegetable and a half — so we’re not even halfway to 5 a Day after all these years.
The study’s figures represent states’ median consumption, so actual vegetable consumption for half the population is even lower.
The CDC study suggests U.S. fresh produce intake is softer that a sneaker full of guacamole.
Among patterns gleaned from the report:

  • Adults in Oregon and California eat more vegetables than adults in other states.
  • They also are among the highest in fruit consumption.
  • Oregon and California also rank above the national score on access to retailers of healthier food, farmers market density and farmers market acceptance of nutrition assistance program benefits.

That last point in particular plays into CDC recommendations to further monitor and evaluate steps government feeding efforts can take to improve fresh produce consumption and consequently Americans’ diets and health.
The report mentions state-level initiatives to increase consumption by improving access to fresh foods and implementing policies that make it easier for community, school and child nutrition programs to offer fresh fruits and vegetables.
While the report does mention the importance of access to retailers selling fruits and vegetables in supposedly underserved areas — although the “food desert” theory of poor nutrition has been called into to question by some observers, including me — its prescribed remedies mostly focus on federal and state-level government food subsidies and public/private partnerships, largely focusing on children’s access to fruits and vegetables and urging food stamp users to shop at farmers markets.
Among the strategies lauded in the report:

  • 28 states have a farm to school/preschool policy. Twenty-seven states have created state-level food policy councils (coalitions of private and public partners) working together to improve access to healthy food.
  • Farmers markets’ acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits varies among states, with Vermont, New Mexico and Oregon (along with Washington, D.C.) leading the pack. In all, 19 states authorize farmers market vendors to accept SNAP or Women Infants and Children cash value vouchers.
  • Programs to stretch the purchasing power of SNAP benefits, like New York City’s Health Bucks program, which gives a $2 Health Bucks coupon for every $5 spent in SNAP benefits for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets.

The 16-page report is viewable here.
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