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Eat your veggies, America: A government report shows a gap in many people's diets

Americans are not getting close to eating enough fruits and vegetables daily, a new government report finds.

Americans are not getting close to eating enough fruits and vegetables daily, a new government report finds.

Guidelines are clear -- people should get a cup and a half to two cups of fruit every day and two to three cups of vegetables. But three-quarters of Americans do not manage to get that much fruit and 87 percent fail to eat enough vegetables.

"Everyone would be healthier eating more vegetables," said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, who wasn't involved in the survey.

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Latetia Moore of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Frances Thompson of the National Cancer Institute went through data from a large national survey to calculate just how close Americans come to meeting national recommendations.

"These results indicate that fewer than 18 percent of adults in each state con­sumed the recommended amount of fruit and fewer than 14 percent consumed the recommended amount of vegetables," they write in the CDC's weekly report on disease and death.

People who eat just five servings of fruits and vegetables a day lower their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.

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One study found that people who ate seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables were 42 percent less likely to die from any cause over the next eight years compared to those who ate less than one serving a day.

An assortment of vegetables Getty Images stock

But Americans just don't eat their veggies.

On average, Americans eat only one serving of fruit a day — equivalent to a small glass of orange juice or an apple — Moore and Thompson found. Consumption ranges from just under one serving a day on average in Arkansas to 1.3 servings in California.

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People do barely any better on vegetables, getting 1.4 servings a day in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota on the low end and just under two servings a day in California and Oregon, the highest-scoring states.

"Overall, 13.1 percent of respondents met fruit intake recommendations, ranging from 7.5 percent in Tennessee to 17.7 percent in California, and 8.9 percent met vegetable recommenda­tions, ranging from 5.5 percent in Mississippi to 13 percent in California," they wrote.

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"Substantial new efforts are needed to build consumer demand for fruits and vegetables through competitive pricing, place­ment, and promotion in child care, schools, grocery stores, communities, and worksites."

The best place to start is with kids, who are setting up their habits for a lifetime. Some school districts are trying to make vegetables more appealing to kids.

The researchers have other advice, also. "For example, work sites can make it easier for employees to make healthy food choices and create social norms that support healthy eating by creat­ing policies to ensure that fruits and vegetables are provided at work-site gatherings, including meetings, conferences, and other events," they suggest.

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It's not easy to eat vegetables, Nestle notes. "People perceive vegetables as being difficult to manage," she said. "Start with expensive. There's a lot of waste. They have to be peeled. They have to be washed. They have to be cut. They aren't as filling as junkier foods. The barriers are real."

Politics doesn't help, Nestle adds. There aren't powerful lobby groups for fruit and vegetable growers like there are for beef, soy, corn and dairy.

"If the government were serious about getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables, it could do for vegetable growers what it does for corn and soybean farmers. You can subsidize," she said.