No matter how many cutting edge medical technologies we adapt, or how many people have health insurance, we’re not going to have a healthy population until we find a way to fix the problem of diet in America. I think these maps are particularly interesting. The top one shows how many adults consume at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day (in my opinion, that’s really not a lot of produce). And when you look at the key, the states in green – that are doing the best job of eating fruits and vegetables – are the ones where at least 15% of the population is eating that much produce. 15%. That means that up to 85% of the population in those states is not eating at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. And those are the states that are ranked highest on this metric.
Colorado barely squeaked into the green state designation, with 15.2% of adults eating at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. That means that 84.8% of our population isn’t eating that much produce. Our health care costs are soaring; the incidence of obesity and illnesses like diabetes and heart disease continues to climb. Yes, we need to address the issue of health insurance – everyone needs it, and we must find a way to provide it. But even with health insurance, the likelihood of achieving life-long good health without consuming fruits and vegetables is slim.
Eating habits become ingrained in childhood, which makes school lunch programs vital to the cause of eating more fruits and vegetables. In northern Colorado, there are local farmers tackling this issue through farm to school programs, but such programs are still relatively rare. Among high school students, nine out of ten aren’t meeting the recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake.
The government is actively involved in shaping the diets of the American people through farm subsidies. In terms of dollar amounts, feed grains are by far the most heavily subsidized crop (this is effectively a subsidy on the price of meat and dairy products, since the grains are used to feed the animals). This is followed by subsidies on cotton, wheat, and rice, with those four crops receiving more than 80% of all of the agriculture subsidy dollars in the United States. You won’t find crops like carrots and tomatoes and blueberries on the list.
There are people who advocate personal responsibility as the crux of health care reform, and to some extent I agree with them. No matter how good our doctors are, and no matter how comprehensive or affordable our health insurance is, we won’t be healthy without a good deal of personal commitment. But it’s unrealistic to expect people to purchase fruits and vegetables over less expensive grain products. And as long as we continue to subsidize the grain products, they will continue to be less expensive and more widely available.