Fruit and veg – how do other countries manage 5 a day?

December 6, 2018 6:11 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Five-a-day: it’s a mantra that we in the UK are very used to. ‘It’s one of your five a day!’ shout advertisements. ‘You need your five a day!’ we admonish teenagers. And there’s absolutely no doubt that putting fruit and vegetables at the heart of our diets is a Very Good Thing. Our five-a-day programme has been running in this country since 2003. Reports suggest that it has been moderately successful, with a slight increase in fruit and vegetable consumption overall. Data quoted in, a report from Horticulture Innovation Australia, states that improvements have been ‘particularly evident amongst program area respondents who started from a lower base: males, younger people and those classified as living in areas of deprivation’.

Still, there’s some way to go to reach the programme’s aims – and of course, in 2017, the goalposts moved somewhat. Following further research, the recommended daily consumption of fruit and vegetable portions rose from five to ten a day.

Most developed countries have an official healthy eating programme of some kind that includes a focus on fruit and vegetables. The majority of them are based on the same recommendation by the World Health Organization that the UK uses: that individuals consume ‘a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers).’ Along with the UK, most countries have decided to interpret this as being equivalent to five servings a day. To some degree, this is simply a neat marketing trick: it’s easy to remember, as it’s the number of fingers on one hand. (Some countries have suggested that a portion should fill the palm of your hand, with the digits poking out at the top.)

Thus we have Argentina’s ‘5 al dia’, Brazil’s 5 ao dia, Germany’s 5 am Tag, Poland’s 5 Porcji, Sweden’s 5 om Dan and Venezuela’s Cinco al Dia – to name just a few. As a marketing campaign, the ‘five a day’ message is considered an enormous success – it’s thought to be the most successful nutritional marketing campaign there’s ever been, in terms of recognition of the message. But recognising a slogan is one thing – acting on it is another. Our own programme has had only modest results. Have any others worked better? And why are some countries recommending entirely different amounts anyway?

The information in this blog is based on two main sources:, which gives a really good overview of what’s going on across the globe; and from Horticulture Innovation Australia, a wide-ranging document assessing the efficacy of various national programmes.

United States

In the USA, the 5 a Day programme was eventually rebranded Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. Like our own programme, it’s had some modest success, particularly among children. The Australian report notes: ‘it suggests that efforts to reach younger minds that are not yet set in their ways may be more fruitful [no pun intended, I assume] than trying to change those of adults.’


Five-a-day programmes abound in Europe. In Austria, however, the suggested portion servings are much larger than in the UK: eating the five portions recommended in Austria would be the equivalent of eating up to 18 British portions!

Denmark, interestingly, plumps for ‘six-a-day’. This is apparently because the number 6 in Danish is pronounced ‘sex’ – marketers reckoned this would make it particularly easy to remember. The campaign has included some pretty racy pictures of vegetables (feel free to google). You’ll never look at a floret of broccoli in the same way again.

Most interestingly, the Danish programme is the only one the Australian report considers to have been a real success:

‘Between 1995 and 2004, the Danish National Survey of Dietary Habits and Physical Activity reported that vegetable and fruit consumption for the 4- to 10-year-old group increased by 29% and 58% respectively. For the 11- to 75-year-old group, vegetable and fruit consumption increased by 41% and 75% respectively, during the same period (Danish National Centre for Social Research, 2005). For the period 2003–2008, the average intake of vegetables for adults (18–75 years old) was reported to be 162 g per person per day, while the average intake of fruit for this group stood at 283 g per person per day (Danish National Centre for Social Research, 2009). This equals 445 g per person per day, higher than the minimum WHO recommended level of 400 g per person per day, demonstrating the success of  the Danish campaign in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption above the recommended minimum WHO levels.’


Moving further afield, Singapore goes for ‘2+2 a day’ (two fruit and two vegetables), while Indonesia claims: ‘4 is healthy, 5 is perfect’. In Japan, the five servings a day totals 350 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of fruit – significantly higher than the total contained in our own recommended five servings.

‘Go for 2 & 5’ is the campaign in Australia: it encourages adults to eat at least two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables each day. According to Horticulture Innovation Australia, the campaign has raised awareness successfully and has also boosted knowledge. There has, apparently, been an increase in ‘mid-level consumption’ of vegetables, but no significant rise in the proportion of adults eating the recommended level.


With the exception of Denmark, the results of all the campaigns have been no more than modest. Many have achieved ‘a moderate shift to an increased intake’, but only in Denmark has the goal been attained.

The Australian report concludes that efforts to raise fruit and vegetable consumption to the recommended level are going to be hard  – short-term campaigns are ‘not the answer’ and there will be no short-term success.

‘To change behaviours requires consistent and long-term campaigns.’

 Why bother?

But the struggle is worth it. Wherever you are in the world, it’s vital that you eat enough fruit and vegetables. Doing so brings a reduction in the risk of many types of cancer, lowers hypertension and helps to prevent heart disease, strokes and diabetes. The fruit and vegetables themselves deliver huge benefits nutritionally: they’re full of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Just as importantly, they ‘crowd out’ the bad stuff. It’s hard to stuff yourself with cream buns if you’ve just eaten a pineapple.

The building blocks of good health?

In Denmark, meanwhile, they munch happily through their broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and other fruit and vegetables. They’ve clearly got a lot to teach us. Denmark’s already brought the world lego, insulin and google maps – perhaps it can now bring us all better health?

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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