Monday, 21 May 2012

Who Benefits from the 5 A Day Campaign?

Information about the origins of the 5 A Day Program can be found on the  U.S. National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute website. The 5 A Day Program was started 1991 as a  partnership between the vegetable and fruit industry and the U.S. Government.  A group called the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) was set up to oversee industry participation in the program with $415,000 worth of contributions from about 60 companies and commodity groups.

It's clear that from the very beginning, the 5 A Day message was going to be about marketing products containing fruits and vegetables as much as preventing cancer.  As I discussed in a previous post, there is scant evidence that simply eating more fruits and vegetables lowers cancer risk.

The choice of five servings, rather than some other number, was fairly arbitrary.  The program report admits that 'epidemiologic studies rarely specified how many servings were optimal'.  Five servings was double the estimated US average of 2.5 servings per day.  It was thought to benefit consumers by 'improving the overall diet for problem nutrients' and 'seemed likely to include choices associated with reduced cancer risk'.  Other reasons given for the choice were that '5 servings was not so high as to be seen as impossible' and 'the number 5 was memorable'.

The NHS choices website explains that

5 A DAY is based on advice from the World Health Organization, which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

However, even the NHS are cautious about this advice. In a brochure entitled 'Just Eat More' they state that
Eating more fruit and vegetables may help reduce the risk of the two main killer diseases in this country – heart disease and some cancers.

Note the phrase 'may help' which seems to imply that the jury's still out.

Interestingly, this same brochure goes on to mention the NHS partnership with the food industry.

The Government and the NHS have been working with nutritionists, farmers, the food industry, including manufacturers and retailers, to develop the 5 A DAY logo. Use of the the logo and portion indicator will have to comply with strict nutrition criteria which takes into account portion size, as well as fat, sugar and salt levels. You might see the 5 A DAY logo on promotional materials such as leaflets, website information, point of sale materials and carrier bags. You might also see it on food packets. When you see the logo on the packet you can be confident that it gives you at least one portion of fruit and vegetables.

What are some of these healthy fruits and vegetables being sold to us with government approval?  How about Heinz spaghetti hoops?  They're ' 1 of your 5 a day when eaten as part of a balanced diet'.  (I wonder why they don't count as a vegetable if your diet is imbalanced?)  Heinz Baked Beanz also count toward your 5 a Day, although it's unclear whether this is down to the tomatoes in the sauce.  Perhaps beans are now officially considered a fruit (as in the old rhyme...the more you eat the more you toot).

Thanks to the 5 A Day campaign, low income parents no longer have to feel guilty about opening tins and feeding their kids spaghetti hoops and beans on toast.  We should be eating more of them on a daily basis.  Not only are these foods officially sanctioned by the NHS, they may help prevent cancer and heart disease! 

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