The relative lack of fruit and vegetable consumption by Canadians is costing the economy a lot of green, according to a new study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.
The Economic Benefits of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Canada found more than three-quarters of Canadians currently fail to meet the Canada Food Guide recommendations pertaining to daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
Canadians currently consume an average of 4.38 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, according to the study. For people 19-50, the Canada Food Guide recommends 7 to 8 daily servings for women, and 8 to 10 for men.
According to the Canadian Journal of Public Health study, this results in an annual economic burden of $4.39 billion – $1.47 billion in direct costs such as hospital care, physician services, drugs, etc., and $2.92 billion in indirect costs, such as premature death and disability.
According to the World Health Organization, sufficient daily fruit and vegetable consumption could help prevent major diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. The organization says low consumption is attributable to 16 million disability adjusted life years (a measure of potential life lost due to premature mortality and the years of product life lost due to disability) and 1.7 million deaths worldwide.
The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), which funded the inclusion of fruit and vegetable consumption in the study, is calling on provincial/territorial governments to establish policy statements that support increasing consumption by 20% over the next five years. The equivalent of one additional serving per day translates into annual savings of $878 million.
According to a policy statement issued by the CPMA, Canada is the only G7 country without some form of national fruit and vegetable health/nutrition policy. President Ron Lemaire says the need for adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is implied through accepted wisdom, but doesn’t have the requisite policy support.
“It’s ‘An apple a day’ and all those other old sayings we take for granted, but we’re saying that it has to be more than that,” says Lemaire. “We have to have clear policy that enables and supports [increased fruit and vegetable consumption].
“When you establish a baseline and work towards a target of increasing that, it has a trickle-down effect throughout the entire system – the agri-food system, the education system and the healthcare system. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Lemaire calls it a “catalyst component” that represents one piece of the healthcare puzzle, but must be supported by lifestyle changes.
Lemaire says Canadians are increasingly recognizing the importance of a healthy diet, and policy changes can be an important factor in convincing them to eat more fruit and vegetables. “We’re at a tipping point where we need very small pushes to really change things,” he says.