$1.4 trillion dollars is added to the national debt each year to treat 4 diet-related diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension.
Diseases which are largely preventable through what is found at the other end of your fork.
Diseases for which fresh fruits and vegetables can play an essential role in solving.
Thanks to a multi-year advocacy effort from stakeholders and Congressional champions, the Biden Administration recently announced that the second-ever White House Conference on Nutrition, Hunger and Health will be held this September.
The first conference was held more than 50 years ago. It created many of today’s federal hunger-relief program, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch and Breakfast Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). These have been largely successful in addressing severe malnutrition prevalent at the time they were developed.
But in the last 50 years, poor dietary quality has led to more than three-quarters of Americans being considered overweight or obese, while fruit and vegetable consumption has slowly and steadily declined. Our rates of diet-related disease in the U.S. are an epidemic. They were an epidemic before COVID, they were an epidemic during the height of COVID – with many diet-related diseases adding a significant layer of risk tied to hospitalizations and deaths. Unless we take meaningful action, the diet-related disease epidemic will only worsen.
Today, despite the overwhelming evidence and awareness about the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, 90% of Americans do not meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.
This is harmful for Americans across all income levels, but especially lower-income people who are also at the greatest risk for poor health outcomes. The impact of poor health outcomes, like the impact of poor nutrition, is multifaceted and exponential. Addressing these impacts with sound and just policy is not only critical for the health of these individuals but for our communities as well.
Grim statistics like these are simply unacceptable when considering the volume and selection of fresh produce available year-round. Along with hundreds of other growers, shippers and retailers, the fresh produce industry has been fighting an uphill battle for decades in improving access to, and consumption of, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Except for specific pockets of success, like school meals and the WIC program, we have not meaningfully changed fresh produce consumption habits for decades.
We must ask why and look for a comprehensive solution, ensuring that everywhere Americans source food is addressing our dietary quality crisis.
It’s time to make nutrition policy and funding a priority for all Americans so that our health thrives now, instead of declines later. We cannot create a healthier tomorrow with today’s approaches.
What we need is a fruit and vegetable moonshot. A national, multi-faceted strategy that dramatically increases Americans’ fruit and vegetable consumption and puts us on a path to meet DGA targets by 2030.
The White House Conference on Nutrition, Hunger and Health is our moonshot launchpad.
At a time when the world is reconciling with the aftermath of an unprecedented pandemic, uneven economic recovery, supply chain disruptions, rising inflation, and global conflict, many may rightfully question if we have the capacity to aggressively address our nutrition insecurity strategy.
We must capitalize on this moment to honestly evaluate and reconfigure our nation’s approach to nutrition. Now is the time to address access and dietary quality for all.
Within the federal government, all U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition programs should be evaluated on their ability to help Americans meet the federal government’s own dietary recommendations which emphasizes that fruits and vegetables should be “half the plate.” With 90% of Americans not getting their fill of produce, we have a long way to go.
Health and Human Services (HHS) healthcare systems should adopt evidence-based produce prescription programs for those facing nutrition insecurity and suffering from diet-related chronic disease. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should ensure that nutrition and product labeling is effective and empowers all consumers to make educated decisions.
These are but a few examples, but as an industry, we stand ready and willing to serve as collaborators to achieve the moonshot.
We are already convening stakeholders to meaningfully develop solutions in the spirit of the conference so that 50 years from now, we can look back and know we did our part to create a more vibrant future for all.
Bruce Taylor is the Chair of the International Fresh Produce Association. In 1995, Bruce and several financial partners founded Taylor Fresh Foods and the Taylor Farms operating companies with Bruce as Chairman and CEO. Taylor Farms is North America’s largest producer of salads, fresh-cut vegetables and healthy fresh foods and is proud to provide high-quality, great-tasting products to over 120 million Americans each week.
Laura Himes is the Chair-Elect of the International Fresh Produce Association. She has been with Walmart since 2013 and has financial, buying, and merchandising responsibility for refrigerated vegetable items. Prior to joining Walmart, she worked with Dole, previously SunnyRidge Farm, based in Winter Haven, FL as Farm Operations Manager/R&D.For more ag news and opinions, visit www.Agri-Pulse.com.