Why Do Americans Hate Their Vegetables?


It seems most Americans are at heart kids who still turn up their noses at vegetables in disgust.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a study of our nation’s fruit and vegetable consumption — and the news isn’t very peachy.

It found that only about 25% of American adults eat three or more servings daily. This is the same percentage as 10 years ago.

The federal government had hoped this number would’ve doubled by now, but lacking a well-funded and creative public awareness campaign, I don’t understand why their expectations were so optimistic.

Maybe I’m not watching enough TV these days, but I haven’t noticed a national “Eat Your Veggies” ad campaign on the tube.

But There Are Lots Of Fast Food Ads

And, not surprisingly, many of them are directed at our kids and grandchildren.

Junk food ads now account for two-thirds of all TV food commercials broadcast when children are watching TV.

That’s an average of 12-15 junk food ads per day — and it only takes one commercial to make someone (child or adult) desire a particular food.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 180 million children and teens worldwide are currently overweight or obese (and this includes 22 million overweight kids under five years old), according to the International Obesity Task Force.

In fact, we know that childhood obesity is directly related to children’s exposure to commercials that advertise unhealthy foods, thanks to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in February 2010.

Since obesity raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes (now affecting 300 million people globally) and heart disease (today’s leading killer), these twin epidemics threaten the viability of the world’s cash-strapped health care systems — not to mention the health of our next generation.

Regulating The Ads — What A Concept!

In response to this crisis (present and future), European health officials are beginning to investigate the regulation of children’s exposure to these ads.

“Limiting this food marketing is an important preventative strategy for childhood obesity,” said Bridget Kelly of the Cancer Council NSW in Australia, while she was attending the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam.

There’s a similar movement in the US.

The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, a task force that includes the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has presented food marketing recommendations to Congress.

And the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has developed “Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children,” which includes criteria for food marketing campaigns to kids.

Perhaps someday the whole family will be able to sit down to a quiet hour of TV without being bombarded by junk food temptations.

Good Luck With That One

I’m not holding my breath, however.

Fast food chains and soda manufacturers spend a staggering amount of money lobbying for their products in Washington, D.C. ($56 million in 2009 alone!).

This money is “invested” in insuring that lawmakers will oppose taxes and regulations on sodas and other junk foods, even though these processed foods and beverages are known to cause health problems, from obesity to diabetes.

Fast food companies are willing to spend a bundle to keep the calorie content of their fattening, disease-causing menu items out of public view.

Remember the difficulty that New York City Mayor Bloomberg had in getting fast food chains in New York to post the calorie content of their food on menu boards?

To his credit, the mayor won — and his law is making a difference — but it was a tooth-and-nail battle.

But Regulation Isn’t The Sole Solution

We need to address this problem on multiple fronts — with regulation being just one of them.

We also must address US agriculture policy, particularly farm subsidies.

Billions of taxpayer dollars go directly to giant agribusiness corporations that produce the raw ingredients (corn, soybeans and factory-raised beef) for these gut-busting food products — yet not a cent is sent to small farmers who raise fresh vegetables.

These large-scale growers should also pay for the environmental damage they do, as well as the cost of recalling infected food (as in the case of the recent nationwide egg roundup).

Improving Public Eating Habits

We also need to persuade the 75% of Americans who aren’t eating enough veggies to consume more.

Right now, only 23% of US meals include a vegetable (french fries don’t count). And the number of home-prepared dinners that include a salad is a scant 17% (down from 22% in 1994).

Most people are aware that eating vegetables is good for their health and weight, so why aren’t they doing it? (BTW, did you see that former President Bill Clinton went “semi-vegetarian” last week to help his heart disease?)

One problem is that cooking vegetables properly takes skill. And sadly, most Americans don’t know how to cook anything that doesn’t require a barbecue grill, deep fat fryer or microwave.

Another is convenience. Too many fresh veggies spoil in the fridge, waiting for well-intentioned homemakers to find the time to prepare them.

Finally, appreciating vegetables is an acquired taste for many. If you didn’t grow up eating them, you have to learn to love them. And this usually means learning how to prepare them.

Those of Us Who Already Love Vegetables Can Count Our Blessings

If the health studies I’ve seen are correct, those of us who love veggies can expect to enjoy better health and longer life — with less disability — than the average vegetable-hater.

Perhaps our good example (and our good cooking) will rub off on them. We can only hope — and try.

If you have grandchildren who already are Sprite-guzzling, McNugget-grubbing junkies, here are some helpful tips to employ when they come visiting that might help them change their ways. (Thanks to the good folks at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity):

  • Pack healthy school lunches together with them.
  • Get them involved in the cooking process alongside them.
  • Teach them difference between a healthy snack and a treat.
  • Reduce sedentary time (including watching television, surfing the Internet and playing video games) by walking or playing outdoors with them.
  • Offer them water and plain, low-fat milk as primary beverages.

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