NEW YORK — The United States is facing an unprecedented spike in preventable health care costs related to poor nutrition. But researchers are making great strides in understanding exactly how foods like fruits and vegetables work to make people healthy. And, consumers are beginning to understand that fruits and vegetables play a key role in ensuring a long, healthy life.
These themes were discussed at length here by a group of leading nutritionists during a luncheon sponsored by Campbell Soup Co.'s V8 brand vegetable and fruit juices. Speakers included registered dietitian and author Elizabeth Somer; Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends and Solutions; Carl Keen, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis; and Chor San Khoo, vice president, global nutrition and health for Campbell's.
Citing data from the Milken Institute and the federal government's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Keen said that chronic diseases are expected to increase significantly between now and 2023, with instances of cancer rising 62%, mental disorders up 54%, diabetes up 53% and heart disease and hypertension up 41% and 39%, respectively. Many of these conditions could be prevented by eating better, he noted.
“Within a few years, poor diet will overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” Keen said.
Fortunately, a growing number of U.S. consumers are starting to get the message.
“Consumers are viewing food and nutrients as a way to prevent and treat specific health conditions,” Sloan said. Furthermore, surveys indicate that shoppers are looking to whole foods — including fruits, vegetables and whole grains — as a better way to get those nutrients than through dietary supplements. In a recent Sloan Trends/HealthFocus survey, 88% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “It is important to eat foods that are naturally rich sources of key vitamins and minerals,” while 67% agreed that it was important to take a vitamin or mineral supplement.
However, there is still a great deal that shoppers apparently still need to learn. Notably, Sloan cited a recent Harris Interactive survey that indicated that when Baby Boomers try to lose weight, 59% say they place a specific dietary restriction on themselves, and 37% said they diet or try to eat less in general. Only 4% said they try to eat more vegetables when trying to lose weight, though.
San Khoo said that Campbell's and V8 have worked to create convenient solutions to help consumers eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as raise awareness of the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption through their ad campaigns.