More produce matters to shrink obesity

03/21/2013 06:08:00 PM
Greg Johnson

Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson, EditorSAN FRANCISCO — Fresh produce consumption is generally flat in the U.S.

But juice, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables are slightly down, according to figures shared by the Produce For Better Health Foundation at its annual meeting March 13-15 in San Francisco.

Vance Publishing, which owns The Packer, also owns publications which cover the dairy, beef and pork industries. The editors of those brands report consumption is roughly flat in their markets.

Hmmm ... that’s more than three-quarters of the plate.

This means obesity should be falling too, unless people are eating more cookies.

We’re starting to see signs obesity is on the decrease — or at least it has stopped expanding.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently reported the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off. In some places, such as Philadelphia, New York and California, childhood obesity is dropping.

The foundation attributes this decline in part to making more healthy food available in schools.

Fresh fruits and vegetables have shown they’re a force in the political conversation, with their relative successes in public schools, the farm bill and feeding programs.

Produce is half a plate and seemingly on the healthy side of nearly all food issues.

But fruit and vegetable consumption has to start rising for all the promotion and politicking to be considered successful.

PBH’s slogan since 2006 has been “Fruits & Veggies — More Matters.”

PBH president and chief executive officer Elizabeth Pivonka said the slogan’s goal has always been a nudge to eat more fruits and vegetables because consumers certainly know that fresh produce is healthful.

“Moms don’t want to be preached at or meant to feel guilty,” she said. “They just need a reminder of the health of fruits and vegetables. This is the main goal of More Matters.”

But when it comes to food provided by the taxpayer, whether that’s through food stamps, school feeding programs, or similar hunger services, I’d recommend a little more than a nudge toward healthy food like fruits and vegetables.

The Packer’s managing editor Fred Wilkinson suggested in a December column that food stamps ought to double for fruit and vegetable purchases, similar to double coupons at supermarkets.

A Wisconsin state legislator in mid-March proposed a bill that any Wisconsin resident receiving FoodShare, the state’s nutrition assistance program, could not use food stamps to purchase junk food.

He ought to turn it from a negative to a positive and make healthy options, like fresh fruits and vegetables (and, in a nod to my fellow Vance editors, let’s throw in lean meats and dairy) cheaper through food stamps and less healthy food more expensive or ineligible.

I wouldn’t suggest a Mayor Bloomberg-style restriction, as consumers could still purchase less healthy food, just not with taxpayer-funded means.

———

Pivonka said PBH’s target audience is moms with kids in the home under 10 years old. Its annual study shows generally positive trends with fruit and vegetables and the More Matters brand with this demographic.

But it was a little awkward when March 14 workshop speaker Laurie Demeritt, president of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., started her presentation on health trends by saying “70% of American households have no kids in them.

“Stop thinking just about mom,” she said.

If the produce industry is forced to choose between the two approaches, targeting mom or not, I strongly recommend going after mom.

Mom buys food for kids, and kids’ eating habits are started young, which is the time to get them in the habit of making fruits and vegetables half of every meal.

Meanwhile, Howard Goldberg from NPD Group said snacking is rising, and those who snack tend to eat healthier.

Most kids I’m around, including my own, are constant snackers.

What’s the No. 1 snack right now? Fresh fruit.

Mom should be encouraged to buy lots of fruit to keep around for snacking, even if she’s just 30% of American households.

She’s more influential than that on many levels.

gjohnson@thepacker.com



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