As North Carolina farms begin their peak produce season, consumers have greater access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables through the growing number of farmers markets and other produce marketing efforts across the state. As a result, North Carolinians have an opportunity to reverse a pattern described in a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said we are still not eating enough fruits or vegetables.
“A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for managing weight and preventing many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, all of which currently add to health care costs in North Carolina,” said Dr. Carolyn Dunn, professor of nutrition and N.C. Cooperative Extension specialist at N.C. State University.
This is an important issue for North Carolina because the cost of health care for diet-related disease in the state is skyrocketing. The cost of excess weight alone is more than $17.6 billion annually for the state, according to a 2012 report by Be Active North Carolina.
The CDC’s 2013 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables reported that four out of 10 North Carolina high school students (44.5 percent) and adults (40.8 percent) eat fruit less than one time per day, both worse than the national rates of 36 percent and 37.7 percent respectively. About four out of 10 N.C. high school students (39.6 percent) and two out of 10 N.C. adults (21.9 percent) eat vegetables less than one time per day, with adults doing better and high school students doing worse than the national rates of 37.7 percent and 22.6 percent respectively.
The median fruit intake by N.C. adults as well as adolescents was once daily. For adolescents this is the same as the national average, but for adults this is slightly below the national average of 1.1. The median vegetable intake by N.C. adults is the same as the national average (1.6 times per day), and intake for high school students is 1.1 times per day (slightly below the national average of 1.3).
“There are many exciting projects across the state that focus on getting children and teens to eat more fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Nancy Creamer, co-director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.
FoodCorps, a partnership of CEFS and 4-H, is an example of these efforts. FoodCorps, based on the model of AmeriCorps, places service members in school gardens working on nutrition education, garden engagement and farm-to-cafeteria access. This year, the six service members in North Carolina have engaged more than 7,000 children this academic year alone. Data show that people who raise their own produce are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables.
In Goldsboro, Students Working for an Agriculture Revolutionary Movement, or SWARM, is the Wayne Food Initiative’s emerging leaders program for youth ages 16-19 and is coordinated through partnership with CEFS. Students from multiple Goldsboro high schools participate in SWARM. The HBO series Weight of the Nation recently chronicled a SWARM teen successfully advocated to bring a salad bar to her Goldsboro high school.
The 10% Campaign is a CEFS effort aimed at encouraging consumers, business and food service groups to spend 10 percent of their food dollars on locally sourced foods. The 10% Campaign website includes information on where to find local food across the state, including farmers markets, grocery co-ops, restaurants, community-supported agriculture programs and produce box subscriptions.
Since 2010, the 10% Campaign has recorded nearly $40 million dollars in local food purchases by more than 6,500 individuals and more than 850 businesses. Consumers can sign up through the website and report their local food purchases to help increase these numbers.
The State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables summarizes North Carolina’s data from multiple sources for fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as environmental supports that can make it easier for North Carolina residents to make the healthy choice to eat more fruits and vegetables.