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How to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables

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How to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables

December 20
21:26 2017

https://static.pexels.com/photos/162776/vegetables-healthy-nutrition-kitchen-cooking-162776.jpeg

Have you eaten the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables today? That’s 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables, if you are an adult. And no, ketchup and potato chips do not count.

Well, according to a study published last week in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), around 90% of American adults fall short of these recommendations. If you are part of this 90%, that’s not good for you. Not getting enough fruits and vegetables may raise your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. But it’s also being childish in several ways. As previous studies have shown, about 90% of kids aren’t getting the recommended daily amount of fruits and veggies either. And there’s an ongoing childhood obesity epidemic. And what you do as a kid tends to carry over to what you do as an adult. And there’s a continuing adult obesity epidemic. And kids tend to do what adults do.

All of this means that as an adult, you can do a lot to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. That’s why the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) enlisted a bunch of adults to start the FNV campaign. FNV, if you haven’t figured it out, stands for fruits and vegetables. But FNV could also mean “fun not vapid” because the goal of the campaign is to show how fun fruits and veggies can be. Rather than telling children in your best “Bueller”-esque Ben Stein voice, “you should eat more fruits and vegetables because they have vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, etc.”, the FNV campaign aims to give edible plants a lot more pizzazz.

And it’s clear that fruits and veggies have an image problem and need better PR. The MMWR study showed just how much adults “succotash” at eating fruits and vegetables. For the study, a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which is not to be confused with data from your BFF (best friend forever). The BRFS is an annual telephone survey of a random sample of Americans that asks them about different health-related behaviors such as diet. Analyzing the data found that only 9.3% met the recommended daily veggie intake and only 12.2% met the recommended daily fruit intake. Oops. Time to make America grapes again.

The state with the lowest percentage of adults meeting the recommendations was West Virginia (7.3% for the fruit recommendations and 5.8% for the veggie recommendation). But even the best performers (Washington, DC, at 15.5% for fruit and Alaska at 12.0% for veggies) were not really good at all. And Millennials were the worst (for fruit and veggie intake, that is). Among all adult age groups, those in the 18 to 30 year old range had the lowest rates (only 9.2% meeting the fruit recommendation and 6.7% meeting the vegetable recommendation). So much for eating enough avocado toast.

The Millennial finding is especially concerning because it shows that fruit and veggie consumption may be trending downwards. Who knows how low consumption will drop for the next generation of adults, unless something is done to reverse the trend.

Enter PHA and FNV. FNV hasn’t just said, “fruits and veggies are fun, darn it. You will have fun with them.” Rather, the campaign has employed the same marketing principles that are used for other successfully-marketed products. This includes enlisting adults whom kids recognize to show just how delightful fruits and veggies can be. An example is a series of flashy advertisements that feature well-known celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Cam Newton, Kristen Bell, Stephen and Ayesha Curry, Nick Jonas, Julianne Hough, Apolo Ohno, Allyson Felix, Jordin Sparks, and probably the biggest celebrity of them all, Jiff Pom.

Here’s a brief segment on the FNV campaign:

The advertisements don’t just feature the celebrities saying in a constipated manner “eat this.” (By the way, fruits and veggies can help with constipation too.) As with dating site profiles, saying that you are interesting doesn’t mean that you are actually interesting. Instead, the promotional materials portray engaging images such as actress Kristen Bell holding a bell pepper next to the phrase, “Kristen goes for all the bells.” Or NBA star Stephen Curry and actress Ayesha Curry using broccoli spears as microphones. Or Jessica Alba listening to beets with the words “beet chic.” Now isn’t that pun?

An example of an FNV promotion for fruits and vegetables, featuring broccoli…oh and Stephen and Ayesha Curry as well. (Courtesy of Toni Carey/Partnership for a Healthier America)

According to PHA, the FNV campaign has already successfully changed behavior. Materials provided by Toni Carey, Senior Manager, Communications & Marketing, for PHA, state that “80% of people bought or consumed more fruits and veggies after seeing FNV advertising” and “over 90% have a favorable impression of FNV and would engage with the brand in some way.” Give me a beet. That looks quite fruitful.

Olympic Gold medal winning-swimmer Summer Sanders is also helping PHA and FNV advocate for fruits and vegetables. The former host of Nickelodeon game show Figure It Out has figured out first hand the benefits of fruits and vegetables, saying “what I put in my body will make me a better athlete.” During PHA’s recent Fit2Celebrate event, the mother of two offered tips on serving as a “fruit-and-vegetable-serving” role model for children: “You can’t just give your kids fruits and vegetables and hope that they will eat them when you aren’t looking. You have to make sure kids have the knowledge and resources to eat well. They are capable of digesting the information of nutrition so you have to have open conversations with them.”

Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders speaks at the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Fit2Celebrate Gala on November 1. (Photo: Partnership for a Healthier America)

These conversations include giving the backstory behind fruits and vegetables: “from putting seeds into the soil to the picking and preparing of fruits and vegetables. If they see and get to know the whole process, they will be find them more interesting.” And she also brings the superhero thing into the conversation: “I remind them how powerful food can be. For example, they know that parsley fights cancer, and tomatoes are powerful with antioxidants.” After talking with Sanders, who now runs marathons for fun, I had the sudden urge to consume a tomato and parsley sandwich, without the bread, that is.

With obesity, diabetes, and many chronic diseases continuing to rise, campaigns such as FNV will be important, especially to counter the extensive marketing of unhealthy foods. According to FNV, “less than 1% of the $2B spent on advertising food and beverage products to youth each year is spent on healthier options.” FNV endeavors to change this and provide more role models for healthier eating. But don’t wait for television, movie, and sports stars to serve as role models. You already serve as a celebrity to the kids around you in many ways. Kids are watching you and what you do. As an adult, you can do a lot to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. And that begins by eating more yourself.

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