In Maryland, between 20 percent and 24 percent of the residents are obese. The worst states, including Texas and Mississippi, have obesity rates above 30 percent. The most recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, released last week, said that 34 percent of U.S. adults were obese in 2006.
People are considered obese when they have a high level of body fat, usually presented in terms of a person's body mass index, calculated using a person's height and weight. For example, a woman who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 164 pounds has a BMI of 30 and is considered obese. A calculator is available on the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov.
Those who eat right and maintain proper weight are less likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, some kinds of cancer and heart disease, the CDC says.
Nutrients in fruits and vegetables include fiber to reduce coronary artery disease, folate to reduce brain defects in babies, potassium to maintain healthy blood pressure, vitamin A for eye and skin health and vitamin C to help wounds heal and to keep teeth and gums healthy.
To get the nation's attention - and change what appear to be deep-seated eating habits - a new public health initiative has been launched by a group sponsored by the government, the CDC and other health organizations and producers, called the Produce for Better Health Foundation. The group's educational program will be called "Fruits & Veggies - More Matters."
Its Web site, www.fruitsandveg giesmorematters.org, offers cooking tips and recipes. And the group plans to pass information through schools and product packaging at stores.
Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive of the foundation, said the new campaign should be fully up and running by the end of 2008 and will make more of an emotional appeal.
It's an appeal largely to mothers. It's not a guilt trip, but a gentle reminder to feed their families more fruits and vegetables, she said. And that includes canned, frozen, dried and juiced forms. Beans and tomato sauce are in, but french fries are out.
Congress is considering an expansion of a pilot program that introduced free healthful snacks in 107 elementary and secondary schools in 2002.
So far, the $6 million program has successfully pushed students to try new foods, said Joanne Guthrie, assistant deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, which studied the effort.
Also under congressional consideration is a pilot program that would offer bonuses to food stamp recipients to offset the cost of fruits and vegetables.
Guthrie's service had looked at ways to use the far-reaching food stamp program - serving one in 12 Americans at a cost of $32.8 billion - to improve food choices. It concluded that bonuses that specifically lower the price of fruits and vegetables by 20 percent could raise consumption from none to 2.2 cups per day.
Another national initiative aimed at lower-income shoppers, the Healthy Stores Project, encourages groceries to carry more healthful foods. Program officials also work with shop owners to educate customers.
The project, launched by an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is running in a handful of cities. A pilot program began in Baltimore in 2004 with a Stop, Shop and Save market. It has now spread to 16 stores in East and West Baltimore.
The group says there is a lot of need for grocers in the city, which lost 15 percent of its supermarkets between 2000 and 2002. Residents have had to get groceries at corner stores and drugstores, which don't always have fresh produce.
Joel Gittelsohn, the professor and program founder, said it has received positive reviews from store owners and customers.
There are plans to take the program citywide in 2008.
What nutrients do and which fruits and vegetables contain them:
What it does: among other benefits, reduces risk of coronary heart disease
Found in: black and navy beans, soybeans and chickpeas
What it does: could reduce a woman's risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord defect
Found in: cooked spinach, asparagus and black-eyed peas
What it does: could help maintain healthy blood pressure
Found in: sweet and white potatoes, cooked greens and carrots and prune juice
What it does: keeps eyes and skin healthy and protects against infection
Found in: carrots, spinach, cantaloupe, red peppers and cabbage
What it does: helps heal cuts and wounds, keeps teeth and gums healthy
Found in: red and green peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, oranges and Brussels sprouts
[Source: Fruits & Veggies - More Matters]
By the numbers
Percentage of adults ages 20-74 obese:
(Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Getting enough fruits and vegetables
Percentage of adults over 18 years old who met federal dietary guidelines from 1999-2002:
Vegetables (excluding french fries) 27.4%
(Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine)