Marketing & Communications Director
Produce for Better Health Foundation
New report illuminates significant disparities in federal spending and the need to elevate fruit and vegetable consumption as a national priority
May 25, 2022 – Today the Produce For Better Health Foundation (PBH) released its latest comprehensive research assessment of fruit and vegetable consumption-focused spending disparities in federal research, feeding and education programs, titled Fruit & Vegetable Gap Analysis: Bridging The Disparity Between Federal Spending & America’s Consumption Crisis, in partnership with Nutrition On Demand (NOD), a small consulting firm specializing in nutrition science, policy, and communications. This report is particularly timely, given the recent White House announcement regarding a September 2022 conference on hunger, nutrition, and health to recognize nutrition insecurity challenges in our country. Based on an extensive, year-long analysis of federal agency initiatives at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as feedback from an open comment period, this report examines how key government departments and agencies currently fund efforts to assist Americans with increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables – and, importantly, identifies gaps and opportunities to enhance these initiatives and elevate fruit and vegetable consumption as a national priority.
Despite the well-established evidence on the role of fruits and vegetables in optimizing health and reducing chronic disease risk, most Americans do not eat enough each day, and as evidenced in this report, Congress is in the position to prioritize appropriations earmarked specifically toward spending on initiatives to close the pervasive and persistent consumption gap. To increase awareness of these disparities, PBH typically conducted this analysis every five years, and in 2021, worked with NOD to identify the latest data trends and opportunities, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting impact on nutrition insecurity in America.
“To improve public health, fruit and vegetable consumption must be elevated as a national priority and commensurately funded,” stated Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, PBH President & CEO. “An integrated, multi-sector effort, including increased spending across federal initiatives, is necessary to close the consumption gap. This Gap Analysis identifies the urgent need to specifically increase funding for innovative clinical and consumer research, intentional and improved access for all people, as well as inspiring and actionable ideas that create new, sustainable fruit and vegetable consumption habits.”
Key Findings From The Gap Analysis
America is experiencing a pervasive and persistent fruit and vegetable consumption crisis. The evidence is consistent and clear: fruits and vegetables are foundational to healthy dietary patterns and lifestyles, yet most Americans do not consume the daily amounts of fruits and vegetables recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americas (DGA). In addition, fruit and vegetable consumption habits are eroding over time and are not being passed from generation to generation.
The economic stakes of low fruit and vegetable consumption, even with conservative estimates, are high. The annual economic cost of America’s pervasive and persistent consumption crisis was an alarming $98.2 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to $137.0 billion by 2030.
Despite this pervasive and persistent consumption crisis, fruit and vegetable consumption, as a primary dietary habit to support health and minimize chronic disease risk, is inadequately funded across key government departments and agencies – namely USDA, NIH and CDC – which are responsible for supporting evidence-based initiatives to improve public health.
- USDA: Analysis of appropriate USDA spending indicates a substantial disparity in addressing the significant under-consumption of fruits and vegetables commensurate with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) as demonstrated by the misalignment of commodity food group purchases and the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) market basket cost-share percentages as well as fruit and vegetable research spending levels. Further, only 0.5% of USDA food and nutrition assistance programs’ budgets, combined, are allocated toward nutrition education and promotion. Not only does the proportion of funding for under-consumed food groups in the DGA and on MyPlate — especially fruits and vegetables — need to be dramatically increased, given their pervasive under-consumption and unrealized public health benefits, funding appropriated for the DGA must be prioritized. Given the far-reaching impact of the DGA as the basis for all U.S. nutrition programming and policies, it’s imperative to dedicate ongoing and adequate funds for USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) to support their development and implementation.
- NIH: NIH research covers a wide range of important topics related to health; fruit and vegetable research accounts for less than 4% of all NIH projects. This analysis demonstrates that increased spending on prevention projects is warranted, as is increased spending on fruit and vegetable projects for diet-related diseases, to be consistent with public health goals and needs. With fruit and vegetable consumption continuing to decline, and associated detrimental health outcomes on the rise, NIH projects should increasingly elevate fruit and vegetable consumption as a priority recommendation within initiatives to prevent and/or reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- CDC: According to this analysis, Congress dramatically underfunds CDC for its work to promote healthy eating, specifically fruit and vegetable consumption, compared to tobacco prevention. In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, CDC’s appropriations for tobacco prevention were almost six times those for promoting fruit and vegetable consumption. To bring fruit and vegetable spending more in line with tobacco prevention efforts, CDC’s funding should be increased to at least 30% ($63 million) of tobacco prevention spending (at $210 million) — almost double the current spending level associated with promoting fruits and vegetables for their public health benefits ($38 million).
Fruit and vegetable consumption must be elevated as a national priority, with increased and equitable funding across dedicated federal agencies, to support improved public health. The Gap Analysis identifies the urgent need to increase funding for:
- Innovative clinical and consumer research, to support improved fruit and vegetable consumption behaviors;
- Intentional and improved fruit and vegetable access for all people, to assist populations at disproportionate risk of chronic disease and nutrition insecurity; and
- Inspiring and actionable ideas that create new, sustainable habits, highlighting positive and unifying messages, to support fruit and vegetable consumption in all forms, while also reinforcing existing behaviors as well as appreciating and acknowledging individual needs, barriers, and successes.
A multi-sector, systems-based approach is needed to ultimately, close the gap and reverse the fruit and vegetable consumption crisis. Stakeholders across all sectors — from farmers, shippers, and packers to retail and foodservice leaders, to public health officials and policy makers, to nutrition educators and health professionals, among many others — must work together to develop a national action plan, recognizing unique sector contributions and cross-sector collaboration opportunities, for improved fruit and vegetable consumption, now and in the future.
“Fruits and vegetables are consistently under-consumed, despite their proven, essential role in promoting health and reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Shelley Maniscalco, MPH, RDN, founder and owner of Nutrition On Demand. “Funding to promote their consumption continues to be insufficient and disproportionate across those government agencies most responsible for addressing food and nutrition insecurity in America, putting our public health at continued and severe risk. The Gap Analysis strives to be as transparent and detailed as possible so that it can be replicated and utilized by others to support a unified effort to improve fruit and vegetable consumption in America.”
Evidenced by this report, a systems-based, integrated approach is essential across all sectors to bridge the gaps identified in this report and effectively reverse fruit and vegetable consumption declines moving forward, given the fundamental role fruits and vegetables play in healthy diets and nutrition security. To that end, PBH created the Lead The Change Collaborative Consumption Campaign — a multi-sector, multi-year initiative designed to maximize the power of PBH’s unique thought leadership position, widespread influencer network, credible scientific and market research, and, most importantly, its innovative members and partners, to lead a call-to-action for addressing the global fruit and vegetable consumption crisis. PBH also leads the National Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Coalition (NFVCC) to support several initiatives such as the first-ever National Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Summit in 2023.
For more information about the Fruit & Vegetable Gap Analysis: Bridging The Disparity Between Federal Spending & America’s Consumption Crisis, including access to the full report, please visit: https://fruitsandveggies.org/gapanalysis/