Need another reason to increase fruit and vegetable intake? Try COVID-19

The advice in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 states that adults should consume only 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.

Yet only a small percentage of American adults eventually reach these thresholds, according to a report published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. And this fact has serious implications for public health.

“A healthy diet supports healthy immune function and helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers,” the report authors wrote, adding that “having some of these conditions may predispose people to more severe illness and death from COVID-19[FEMALE”[FEMININE”

Looking at data from the 2019 survey, researchers found that fruit and vegetable consumption was low, with only about “one in 10 adults meeting either recommendation”.

Overall, they noted, only 12.3% of adults consumed enough fruit and only 10% met the mark on vegetables. The study, “Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Recommendations — United States, 2019“, was released earlier this year.

Find out what doctors wish patients knew about healthy eating.

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The researchers also noted that adherence to vegetable consumption recommendations was highest among people aged 51 or older. There were also differences in vegetable consumption between groups defined by income level and race. While 12.2% of adults in the highest-income households ate enough vegetables, only 7.7% of those in middle-income households had them. Meanwhile, 6.9% of black adults met vegetable consumption recommendations, compared to 10.1% of white adults.

“This is an old public health problem,” said Kate Kirley, MD, director of chronic disease prevention and programs at the AMA. “Looking at national and state data only tells part of the story, but unfortunately the story that this data tells is quite grim. We see a very low consumption of fruit and vegetables in the population, and this is true regardless of how you break down the data according to the different groups defined by demographics.

“Vegetable consumption, in particular, has a very concerning pattern with significant differences between groups defined by gender, race and income – differences that are the result of long-standing inequalities,” added Dr. Kirley. “As you delve into more local data – not included in this study – these inequalities often become even more glaring.”

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“Perceived barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption include cost, and limited availability and access,” the report notes, adding that “for some people, these barriers may have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 linked to economic and supply chain disruptions that could further limit the ability to access healthier foods.

Dr Kirley said she hopes the pandemic will “bring attention to this long-standing problem and that we will start to see more investment in innovative solutions to promote health through better nutrition”.

Tailored intervention efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption are needed. States and communities should support food policy councils to build a more sustainable food system, the report says. They can also implement nutrition incentive and product prescription programs that help people buy fruits and vegetables. Education and social marketing can also help raise awareness.

The CME module”The Science of Nutrition for Health and Longevity: What Every Physician Needs to Know” is a durable, AMA-designated material for up to 4 AMA PRA Category 1™ Credit and helps physicians start an effective nutrition conversation with patients. The four-hour course, at your own pace, is developed and facilitated by the Gaples Institute of Integrative Heart Diseasea non-profit organization focused on improving the role of nutrition and lifestyle in health care.

This course consists of four modules which are distributed in collaboration with the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform with high quality CME/MOC from many trusted sources to support lifelong learning for physicians and other healthcare professionals.

Learn more about AMA CME Accreditation.

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