(Sept. 16) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The modern era of medicine and public health policy must confront chronic illness rather than malnutrition and infectious diseases, said Dr. Bill Dietz, Sept. 6 speaker at the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference.

For produce marketers, that shift in public health policy could be a good thing, since fruits and vegetables are on the front line of the battle against obesity, cancer and diabetes, said Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

ON THE RISE

Dietz showed the progression of obesity in the U.S., with all states but Colorado colored a deep red for a high incidence of obesity.

Strategies to defeat obesity and head off increasing problems with diabetes and heart disease hinge on increasing physical activity, reducing television viewing in children and adolescents and 5 a Day promotions, he said.

Dietz pointed out there are numerous levels on which to address fruit and vegetable consumption — including availability, access, pricing and consumer education.

He suggested that school districts could partner with supermarkets to provide fresh produce to schools.

VARIABLE PRICING STRATEGIES

Variable pricing strategies for snack food could be employed in school vending machines, with premiums on candy bars and soft drinks and discounts for fresh fruits and vegetables. He said sales tax on fruits and vegetables could be dropped, with funds made up with modest taxes on candy and soft drinks.

Dietz said the momentum to change Americans’ eating behavior is gathering, but he said it will take work to change priorities.

“It is essential to sustain the political will because it will drive policy changes,” he said.