How many servings of fruits and vegetables will you eat today?
If you’re like the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians, it won’t be nearly enough.
Data analyzed by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control showed that just 7.2 percent of our state’s residents consume the recommended two to three cups of vegetables each day, slightly below the 9 percent average nationally. Only 10.3 percent eat the recommended daily intake of one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit per day, compared to 13 percent nationally.
It’s a painful irony for the Tar Heel State. As we’ve explored in previous columns, North Carolina is one of the nation’s top agricultural states and a leading producer of sweet potatoes, strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes. We’re also a pioneer in sustainable agriculture.
Fruits and vegetables are central to our economy and heritage. This summer, an innovative awareness campaign backed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina aims to get us eating them again.
The stakes are high. As an article from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains, “a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.”
Those are the kinds of outcomes we all want for ourselves, our families, and our communities, especially in a nation where one-third of adults are obese, diabetes and heart disease remain major problems, and the medical costs associated with obesity alone add up to $150 billion annually.
In response, The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), a nonprofit launched in concert with Michelle Obama’s obesity-targeting Let’s Move! Initiative, is going to the corporate playbook in an effort to change attitudes about healthy eating.
Using an advertising approach similar to how major brands drive awareness of their products, PHA has enlisted nearly 100 celebrity athletes and entertainers as ambassadors, including a few with strong North Carolina ties, for its “FNV” campaign. The goal: making fruits and vegetables cool.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Golden State Warriors superstar and former Davidson standout Steph Curry, and his wife, chef Ayesha Curry, will be among the faces we see on billboards, online and social media, and other venues this summer as part of the FNV campaign.
On the FNV website, which touts the virtues of all fruits and vegetables “fresh, frozen, canned and dried,” Newton is the most visible star, posing with carrots, peppers and oranges.
Tests run by FNV in Norfolk, Virginia, and Fresno, California, found that 7 out of 10 people exposed to the FNV campaign intend to consume more fruits and vegetables, and grocery stores in those regions have seen measurable increases in produce sold. Now, North Carolina is the first state to attempt a comprehensive rollout of the campaign, which kicked off in late April in Durham.
The initial launch will focus on the Triangle, where a publicity blitz will include collaborations with farmers’ markets, food festivals, and other community events. It’s all “a way to elevate awareness and interest and hopefully move people toward action,” says Kathy Higgins, vice president of corporate affairs and president of the Blue Cross NC Foundation.
Success will be judged by several measures, including overall awareness of the FNV campaign in North Carolina, the prevalence of positive attitudes toward fruits and vegetables, and the intent to purchase and consume fruits and vegetables. Market research established metrics in those areas prior to the FNV launch, and a follow-up study in the early fall will help determine how much impact the campaign has made. Blue Cross NC is evaluating ways to extend the initiative beyond the Triangle.
Persuading people to eat fruits and vegetables is, of course, just part of the battle. Hundreds of thousands of low-income state residents live in “food deserts,” requiring them to travel significant distances to obtain nutritious food. Numerous nonprofits and government agencies across the state are working on making produce and other healthy options more accessible for them. The FNV campaign can only help these efforts by reminding all of us that fruits and veggies – and their indisputable link to our well-being – deserve a fresh look.
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University, and author of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.” Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.