WILMINGTON, Del. -- In an effort to boost fruit and vegetable consumption worldwide, a coalition of produce marketing groups from the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa last week announced the formation of the International Fruit and Vegetable Alliance.
Stemming the global rise of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes should be a primary goal of health, food and agricultural institutions, and produce marketing groups have a responsibility to help, said Ron Lemaire, the newly appointed IFAVA chairman, during a call to action at the 18th International Congress of Nutrition in Durban, South Africa.
"All governments and major health institutions are now conscious that obesity and overweight represent a real health calamity and are the principal risk factors for the increase of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers," said Lemaire, who is also executive vice president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. "Encouraging consumers to choose fruit and vegetables in place of more energy-dense foods will go a long way towards addressing the world's burgeoning waistline, while also offering potential protection against a number of non-communicable diseases."
These preventable, chronic health conditions not only affect developed countries, where IFAVA estimates half of adults are overweight and 30% are obese, but also developing countries, where a rapidly increasing number of people are both malnourished and overweight.
IFAVA, which has been in development since the August 2004 International 5 A Day Symposium, will act as a liaison to other international groups seeking to combat these problems, such as the World Health Organization.
"WHO hasn't wanted to deal with 25 different countries, each running their own, separate fruit and vegetable program," explained Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the Produce for Better Health foundation and a founding board member of IFAVA. "IFAVA will help interface with WHO, and our hope is that the WHO can help get some of the smaller countries moving in the right direction."
For countries that already have well-developed produce marketing groups, IFAVA will act as an information clearinghouse, facilitating the sharing of research, successful promotion ideas and other resources.
"We have a few key areas where we feel we will all benefit [from IFAVA]," Pivonka said. "The first is that it will facilitate members learning from each other. The second is that it will help everyone stay on top of current research and literature. If we all work together, then everyone will be up to speed and won't have to do these things on their own."
Pivonka said that even by sharing basic resources, such as promotional graphics or consumer newsletters, the alliance could help the non-profit produce marketing groups stretch tight budgets.
"Here at PBH, we also get a lot of international questions, and we often don't have time to field all of those questions, so processing them through IFAVA will be a big help from a workload point of view as well," she added.