Behavior Change
Should Fruit and Vegetables Be Marketed in the Same Way as Pharmaceuticals?

If the health benefits of fruit and vegetables were marketed more like pharmaceutical drugs, it could potentially develop into a multimillion-dollar boon for the pharmaceutical industry, claims one of the UK’s leading dieticians.

Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, was reported by Food Manufacture to have made this claim recently in response to a new study. The study, which measures the effects of eating five fruit and vegetable portions a day, involved over 800,000 consumers — done on such a large scale as to be referred to as a “granddaddy of a study” by Collins.

“If this was a drug and you said, if you take this drug, it will reduce your risk of premature death by 25 percent, we would be making millions with drugs companies,” Collins, who is also a British Dietetic Association representative, told BBC Radio 4 in an interview last week.

The study, carried out by Professor Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, collectively analyzed 16 studies from the US, Asia and Europe. Hu concluded that the risk of premature death falls for every portion of fruit and vegetables consumed: The risk was reported to fall by 5 percent with every portion of fruit and vegetables consumed, but only up to five servings a day — not beyond.

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Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today program, Hu said: “What’s interesting is that we found that the benefits of fruit and vegetables of reducing mortality plateaued at around five servings per day.”

This result poses some opposition to a previous study conducted on 56,000 English consumers, which recommended the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of fruit and vegetables be increased from five to seven. Hu and Collins both dismissed the results of this outlying study, and said increasing the RDI was unnecessary.

“We’ve known for a very long time, probably more than 15 years, that the World Health Organization’s recommendation for five a day has health benefits and that’s been consistently shown throughout that time,” Collins said on the program. “Since then, the little blip from a couple of months ago looked at just English people. It looked at a smaller study and the statistical analysis was slightly strange.”

Regardless, current consumption of fruit and vegetables is currently well below the five-a-day recommendation. In the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey data from 2008-2012, only 30 percent of adults and 41 percent of older adults were reported to have met this guideline. Following on the results of his study, Hu said: “Current consumption [of fruits and vegetables] varies in the general population … at around two or three servings per day. So to reach the recommended five portions, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Hu’s findings follow a range of reports recently focusing on promoting the importance of fruits and vegetables to consumers. Awareness of their health benefits, and increased focus on the issue of rising obesity levels, has made diet and nutrition a widely discussed topic and the impetus for a growing number of consumer-awareness initiatives – including Michelle Obama recruiting “Sesame Street” characters as part of her Let’s Move! campaign to try to combat childhood obesity, and retailer Tesco Ireland removing sweets and chocolates from checkout areas.

Still, last month research presented at The Quest for Quality Food 2014 Research Symposium revealed that increased campaigning efforts to promote fruit and vegetables had produced only modest gain in awareness and have proven ineffective in increasing consumption behavior among consumers.

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