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Produce consumption: mind the gap

pbh gap analysis

As you’ve already learned, the Produce for Better Health Foundation BB #:157162 has released its gap analysis—the gap being the “disparity between federal spending and America’s consumption crisis.”

“On average, 2018 consumption of vegetables, dairy, and fruits fell far short of recommendations, with few increases compared to other food groups,” we are told. “In 2019, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which assesses health-related data at the state level, found that about 12% of adults met recommendations for fruits and only 10% did so for vegetables.”

Without going into detail, I would say that study’s analysis of daily fruit and vegetable consumption among Americans fits well with other facts and figures I have seen.

The study concludes, “According to this analysis, Congress dramatically underfunds CDC [the Centers for Disease Control] for its work to promote healthy eating, specifically fruit and vegetable consumption, compared to tobacco prevention. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, CDC’s appropriations for tobacco prevention were almost six times those for promoting fruit and vegetable consumption.”

The report points toward an increased need for federal spending on public education, especially among the poor, about the benefits of fruits and vegetables in the diet.

This is fine as far as it goes, but I wonder how much good that will do.

Please do not think I am among the sector of the populace who confuse Big Government with Beelzebub himself. My point is not that the government shouldn’t spend more, but that both government and the produce industry both need to realize what they are up against.

I still contend that the problem must be viewed in the light of fast-food and (increasingly) snack food consumption.

But why believe me?

“Fast-food consumption among youth remains a significant public health concern,” according to a study by the University of Connecticut. “Fast-food advertising spending increased from 2012 to 2019; youth exposure to TV ads declined, but at a lower rate than reductions in TV viewing times; many restaurants continued to disproportionately target advertising to Hispanic and Black youth; and restaurants did not actively promote healthier menu items. Restaurants must do more to reduce harmful fast-food advertising to youth.”

I doubt that produce consumption trends will change without seriously and soberly facing this fact.

As I’ve also said, I don’t believe that fast food is the enemy per se. But with some exceptions, fast-food chains have not made produce-focused choices prominent or appealing enough to improve the diets of Americans.

And don’t get me started on plant-based meats.

I think there is room in the market for a sophisticated fast-food entrepreneur to create a chain that makes healthy, produce-heavy choices easily available—and popular—nationwide.

If you take this idea and make yourself a fortune, you at least owe me a nice dinner.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.