Fruits and Vegetables:

Enhanced Federal Efforts to Increase Consumption Could Yield Health Benefits for Americans

GAO-02-657: Published: Jul 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 2002.

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Fruits and vegetables are a critical source of nutrients and other substances that help protect against chronic diseases. Yet fewer than one in four Americans consumes the 5 to 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fruit and vegetable consumption by the general public as a whole has increased by about half a serving under key federal nutritional policy, guidance, and educational programs, as shown by the national consumption data compiled by federal agencies. But key federal food assistance programs have had mixed effects on fruit and vegetables consumption, as shown by national consumption data. However, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is not a primary focus of these programs, which are intended to reduce hunger and support agriculture. A number of actions the federal government could take to encourage more Americans to consume the recommended daily servings have been identified. These include expanding nutrition education efforts, such as the 5 A Day Program; modifying the special supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children to allow participants to choose from more of those fruits and vegetables; expanding the use of the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Project in schools; and expanding farmers' market programs for food assistance participants. These options could require additional resources or redirecting resources from other programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HHS has not addressed the 5-A-Day memorandum of understanding in its strategic or performance plans.

    Recommendation: To provide accountability for implementing the commitments in the April 2002 memorandum of understanding for 5 A Day, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should, in their strategic and performance plans, develop specific strategies and targets for implementing the 5 A Day commitments made in the April 2002 memorandum of understanding.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS awarded a grant increasing funding to 20 states to use technical assistance resources of the 5-A-Day program and took actions to emphasize the importance of program evaluation. HHS joined USDA and others to evaluate the effects of adding salad bars to schools in Florida and provided technical assistance to other states implementing salad bars in schools.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal nutrition education/intervention and food assistance programs promote federal goals and guidelines on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should consider the actions that experts and others have identified to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and, for those deemed most promising, assess the merits, feasibility, and costs to determine whether the actions should be implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA assessed the merits of increasing fruits and vegetables provided in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; the effects of making fruits and vegetables available to students at no cost; and ways to increase nutrition education. USDA partnered with the 5-A-Day Coalition and other organizations in developing a publication series for school cafeterias to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by students.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal nutrition education/intervention and food assistance programs promote federal goals and guidelines on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should consider the actions that experts and others have identified to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and, for those deemed most promising, assess the merits, feasibility, and costs to determine whether the actions should be implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HHS has not included strategies or targets supporting the Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption in strategic and performance plans.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal nutrition education/intervention and food assistance programs promote federal goals and guidelines on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other relevant agencies to include in their performance plans, strategies and targets for supporting the Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA has not included strategies or targets supporting the Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption in strategic and performance plans.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal nutrition education/intervention and food assistance programs promote federal goals and guidelines on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the Secretary of Agriculture should include in the department's strategic and performance plans, strategies and targets supporting the Healthy People 2010 objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA's new Food Guide Pyramid, developed in 2005, communicates the need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy or orange vegetables, in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and in support of the Healthy People 2010 objective for vegetables.

    Recommendation: To give Americans the most current, science-based guidance for making dietary choices, as the Department of Agriculture considers revisions to the Food Guide Pyramid, the Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, should ensure that the Food Guide Pyramid graphic communicates information on the need for a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially deeply colored fruits and vegetables, in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and in support of the Healthy People 2010 objective for vegetables.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA has not yet addressed the 5-A-Day memorandum of understanding in its strategic or performance plans.

    Recommendation: To provide accountability for implementing the commitments in the April 2002 memorandum of understanding for 5 A Day, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services should, in their strategic and performance plans, develop specific strategies and targets for implementing the 5 A Day commitments made in the April 2002 memorandum of understanding.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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