( Photos courtesy Brighter Bites )

As most of you know, I recently retired as vice president of produce for Sysco and became CEO of Brighter Bites, a nonprofit whose goal is to help change the way families are eating to improve their long-term health outcomes. 

Promoting fresh produce to consumers has always been a passion of mine. When I saw the opportunity at Brighter Bites to give back by supporting a proven way to create new fresh produce consumers, particularly preschool and elementary school children, I had to accept the challenge. 

Now I am challenging you, the produce industry, to collaborate with each other to move the needle on our children’s health. Are you walking the walk? If not, how can you expect to sell something that you don’t live and believe in? Of course, growing demand is good for the industry’s bottom line, but it is preventive medicine that improves the health of our children and their families. This is a movement, and who better than us to make it happen!

I couldn’t be more pleased with the shift I have made from Sysco to Brighter Bites. It was the perfect way to give back after working in an industry that has treated me so well for so many years. And while Brighter Bites is a successful program, I see the need for more people in the produce industry to follow my lead. 

The children in this country are being courted by the snack food industry in a way that puts them at risk for some really serious problems. Here are some statistics that have convinced me to become an advocate for all organizations that can help fix these problems:

  • According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity in 2015-16 for children and adolescents 2-19 years old was 18.5% (13.7 million children and adolescents), triple since 1980;
  • About 25% of overweight children age 5-7 have two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease;
  • 10% of the U.S. population has poor access to fresh food; less than half of all U.S. children eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables; and
  • Children now have a 30% chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The snack food industry spends billions of dollars to convince kids to eat processed food instead of fresh:

  • Children watch on average 10 food-related ads per day;
  • 98% of food-related ads that children watch are for products high in sugar and sodium; and
  • Latino children watch 49% more ads on Spanish TV for sugary foods compared with their white counterparts.

It looks to me like our competition is winning.

  • Almost every preschooler in the country consumes some type of sweetened beverage or dessert on a daily basis;
  • When children do eat vegetables, french fries are the one they are most likely to eat;
  • Nearly 40% of total calories consumed by 2-18 year olds are in the form of empty calories; and
  • On average, children reach for cookies, chips and other snacks three times a day.

The reality is that the produce industry is everything the snack food industry wants to be. Fruits and vegetables taste good, look beautiful, and benefit our health. We should be outpacing the snack food industry. Instead, we’re competing against each other. Our competition is the snack food aisle and we need to come together if we’re going to win.

Rich Dachman is the CEO of Brighter Bites and former vice president of produce for Sysco.

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