There are already plenty of ways to make a case for kids eating fruits and vegetables, but a new study opens the door to some real scare tactics. According to findings presented at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting, millions of people are dying from failing to eat fruits and vegetables, many of them in the United States. It’s enough to make even the pickiest eater hang up the banana phone and eat it.
“Fruits and vegetables are a modifiable component of diet that can impact preventable deaths globally,” lead author Victoria Miller, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University, said in a statement. “Our findings indicate the need for population-based efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption throughout the world.”
Of course, Miller and her colleagues are not recommending any stubborn toddler scared-straight programs, but the data is an important reminder about the degree to which parents can control health outcomes by making good nutritional choices for their kids. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of potassium, fiber, and magnesium, along with antioxidants and phenolics, which reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables increase good bacteria in the digestive tract and reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. They’re not the fountain of youth or a magical cure-all, but they are readily available and of paramount importance. Researchers blamed mixed nutrition priorities.
“Global nutrition priorities have traditionally focused on providing sufficient calories, vitamin supplementation, and reducing additives like salt and sugar,” added co-author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “These findings indicate a need to expand the focus to increasing availability and consumption of protective foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes — a positive message with tremendous potential for improving global health.”
To paint a broad and accurate picture, Mozaffarian, Miller, and their team analyzed diet surveys and food availability data spanning 113 countries, accounting for approximately 82 percent of the world’s population. They combined this information with cause of death data and data on cardiovascular risk associated with suboptimal fruit and vegetable consumption from each country. The study, part of the Global Dietary Database project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showed that inadequate fruit consumption resulted in 1.3 million deaths from stroke and more than 520,000 deaths from coronary heart disease annually. Below-optimal vegetable consumption was estimated to result in about 200,000 deaths from stroke and over 800,000 deaths from coronary heart disease annually. In the U.S. alone, failing to eat enough vegetables could result in 82,000 unnecessary cardiovascular deaths and failure to eat enough fruit accounted for 57,000 deaths.
It’s not a huge mystery as to how cardiovascular disease became the number one cause of death in America as well as worldwide.
Most importantly for dads, young men have the greatest cardiovascular risk from suboptimal fruit and vegetable intake. The good news is that this problem, though vast and global, can be solved very locally. Guys just need to eat fruit. Researchers note that all it takes is about 300 grams of fruit and 400 grams of vegetables per day to reach optimal levels, which is about two small apples and three cups of raw vegetables, including legumes.
This is all to say that if toddlers want to throw their carrots around, that’s fine, but parents should pick them up, put them back on the tray, and maybe eat a few themselves. Ultimately, it’s an easy way to keep death at bay. And that’s why you need to eat your vegetables.