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Produce Campaign Aims to Produce Better Health

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Get ready for the juggler.

That's the icon that you'll soon see on fruit, vegetables and the healthy products that contain them. It's all part of a $3.5 million national campaign to help Americans boost their intake of these key foods.

Called "Fruits & Veggies -- More Matters," the juggler campaign is a partnership between the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is designed to replace the "5-a-Day" program that was launched in 1991 by the National Cancer Institute and then updated with the "Five-to-Nine" program, which urges consumers to eat five to nine servings daily of fruit and vegetables. The CDC took over that program two years ago.

None of the efforts has succeeded in helping the nation reach those goals. "No segment of the population is meeting that intake," says William Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The most recent surveys find that "only 11 percent of the population is eating what they are supposed to be eating," notes Elizabeth Pivonka, president of PBH, an industry-supported group. "Close to 90 percent are not."

Several studies published this week highlight just how far most Americans are falling short on fruit and vegetables.

In 2005, only about a third of Americans ate the recommended two or more daily servings of fruit, according to a report published Monday by CDC researchers in the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Even fewer -- just 27 percent -- ate the three servings of vegetables advised daily.

Some of the most vulnerable groups are eating the least. "In all surveys, black men and women reported lower intakes of vegetables, potassium and calcium than their white counterparts," report a team of scientists led by Ashima Kant of Queens College in New York in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Yet research clearly shows that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help control blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, cut the incidence of diabetes and lower the odds of developing some types of cancer. In this era of ever-widening waistlines, people who eat more fruit and vegetables are less likely to be overweight or obese. Eating more fruit and vegetables may help prevent some age-related vision problems, and it even helps improve bone density, key to staving off osteoporosis.

Knowledge of the nutritional benefits is not the problem. National surveys show that consumers "know they should be eating more" fruit and vegetables, Pivonka says. "They want to do what's right for their families, but they need ideas and inspiration."

That's where the new national campaign comes in. A bright green juggler tossing colorful fruit and vegetables through the air will appear on fresh produce as well as canned, frozen and dried products that meet nutritional criteria set by the CDC. About 21,000 supermarkets and 170 companies are already licensed to use the icons, according to PBH.

The juggler is likely to make it a bit easier for consumers to spot products on crowded shelves that can help them meet their nutritional goals.

For a product to carry the icon, it must contain at least one serving of fruit or vegetables per portion. That's the equivalent of one piece of fruit, such as a medium orange. Or it could be equal to a half-cup of raw or cooked vegetables or fruit, such as six baby carrots or 16 grapes. It also equals a half-cup of cooked dry beans, or one cup of leafy greens such as raw spinach or lettuce. Products that have a quarter-cup of dried fruit, such as raisins, or half a cup of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice can also qualify.

But it won't be enough for food companies just to add fruit or vegetables to otherwise unhealthy fare. Food and beverages, from frozen dinners to fruit drinks, must be nutritionally sound in other ways to qualify for a juggler.

The program sets strict limits on the amounts of added sugars or sugar substitutes, fat and sodium. So a cup of tomato soup must have fewer than 480 milligrams of sodium to qualify. Each serving of food must have fewer than three grams of fat and be low in unhealthy saturated fat and trans fat. Naturally occurring healthy fat, such as that found in avocados and olives, are exempt.

Fiber is also part of the equation. To get a juggler icon, a serving must offer a pre-set amount of fiber per calorie -- a level designed to help meet the 28 grams recommended daily for most adults.

While the new program is designed to boost fruit and vegetable intake throughout the population, it specifically targets mothers who make the most food choices for their families. A Web site -- http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org-- offers a chat room for mothers to share their ideas with one another as well as shopping tips, a searchable database of easy recipes, a national contest and a scavenger hunt for kids at the grocery store.

"All," Dietz says, "are designed to make healthy choices easier choices."

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