You Still Aren't Eating Your Veggies
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
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 --
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
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
- How often do you drink fruit juices, such as orange, grapefruit, or
- Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit?
- How often do you eat green salad?
- How often do you eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes,
or potato chips?
- How often do you eat carrots?
- 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.