I reported recently that the official advice to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day had been shown to have only a negligible impact on reducing cancer risk. Now the Times reports that, just like the discredited alcohol guidelines, this target was plucked from thin air without any proper scientific justification.
So, from where did the US Government get the idea for the number five, if not the scientific studies? I was closing in. Marion Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, thinks she remembers exactly where. “It was Susan Foerster, the head nutritionist in California. She had the bright idea of promoting fruit and vegetable consumption in a state which was a big fruit and vegetable producer.”As I said before, eating five-a-day isn’t bad advice, but neither is it a health panacea, and failing to meet that target isn’t necessarily going to have an adverse effect on your health.
The American National Cancer Institute admits that “no studies have tested the impact of specific numbers of servings on cancer risk”. But it says five was chosen in California in 1988, as it doubled the average consumption, and “the number five was memorable and provided a platform for creative message and programme delivery”.
In America now, the five-a-day message is “invisible; it has completely dropped off the radar”, says Nestle.
No wonder the general public are feeling like children who question why they have to do something and are given no better answer than “because mummy says so”.