(Feb. 24) LONG BEACH, Calif. — The produce industry has the best weapon in the war against obesity.

That was the message from Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmingon, Del., as she addressed the crowd at the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association convention Feb. 23.

Pivonka said obesity could be the next tobacco, referring to several recent lawsuits filed against fast-food companies for serving unhealthful food.

She said produce industry has the means to combat obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke and numerous other diseases and that it just needs to get that message to the public. Stressing this message will not only lead to a healthier population, she said, but it also will save a lot of money.

“We spend a thousand times more treating a disease once you have it than we do on prevention,” she said.

Spending was a recurring theme in Pivonka’s speech, as she noted several alarming statistics, including the fact that of the food marketing dollars spent in the U.S. each year, 70% is spent on candy, snacks and other non-nutritious items. Only 2% is spent on fruits and vegetables.

Pivonka also criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pointing out that only 4.5% of the money it spends to promote the consumption of major commodities is spent on promoting fruits and vegetables.