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You Still Aren't Eating Your Veggies

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WebMD Health News

May 15, 2000 -- Americans still aren't eating their veggies despite all the efforts of health gurus like Dean Ornish, MD, the National Cancer Institute, and others who have tried to convince them that giving up a burger and fries is worth it, according to the CDC's latest "snapshot" study of Americans' eating habits.

But eating lots of fruit and vegetables has many proven benefits. "When you eat right, you have more energy, your sexual function improves, you think more clearly," says Ornish, who is clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a founder of its Center for Integrative Medicine.

The CDC study shows that health gurus like Ornish have mostly been preaching to the choir when advocating fruit and veggie benefits.

Only health-conscious adults -- and especially women -- have gotten the message, the CDC study says. Overweight and African-American people actually ate less of the good stuff during past years, says Ruowei Li, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist in the CDC's nutrition and physical activity division. Results from her nationwide survey were published in this month's American Journal of Public Health.

"Discouraging," Li tells WebMD. The survey, which reflects Americans' eating habits between 1990 and 1996, shows that 23% of adults in the surveyed states were eating fruits and veggies five times a day, up from 19% in 1990. Most were over age 65, and were white, college-educated, physically active, and nonsmokers. Also, most were women. There was a 5% increase in the number of women downing the good stuff. Men made a slightly more modest gain -- only 4%.

Inactive men and women did not change their eating habits at all -- still eating far less on average than recommended amounts of the good stuff.

The NCI's nationwide "5-A-Day" campaign was launched 10 years ago to preach a very important lesson, Li says. "So many studies have demonstrated that fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. It's very well documented. So there's no doubt that it's a healthy food choice."

In her study, Li outlines the CDC's telephone survey conducted in 1996, which focused on adults in 16 states. More than 32,000 people were asked six questions:

  1. How often do you drink fruit juices, such as orange, grapefruit, or tomato?
  2. Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit?
  3. How often do you eat green salad?
  4. How often do you eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips?
  5. How often do you eat carrots?
  6. Not counting carrots, potatoes, or salad, how many servings of vegetables do you usually eat?

Although there were some modest gains in fruit and vegetable consumption between 1990 and 1994, the improvement slowed to a less than 1% gain over the next two years. Researchers think that we can do better.

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