Whole-grain foods have always been considered a healthy part of the diet. Only recently have epidemiologic and other data shown that whole grains have a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and even obesity. What nearly all consumers and most health professionals fail to realize is that whole grains deliver as many if not more phytochemicals and antioxidants than do fruits and vegetables. Healthy People 2010 (DHHS) recommends 3 servings of whole grains per day. Because the average intake in the United States is less than 1 serving per day, health professionals must mount an active campaign to help consumers better understand the important health benefits of whole grains and work to increase their intake in the diet.
Recommendations to increase whole grain consumption come from reliable sources, such as the US Dietary Guidelines, Healthy People 2010; the American Heart Association; and the American Diabetes Association. Unfortunately, consumers and even many health professionals are unaware of important new data linking whole grains and health. Furthermore, consumption falls woefully short of recommended intakes. For example, the per capita consumption is between 0.8 and 1 serving per day, which is well below the recommended goal of 3 servings per day found in Healthy People 2010. A closer look at per capita consumption shows that it masks the lack of consumption for a large segment of the population. In a 2001 telephone survey, 20% of American adults and 40% of teens and children reported that they never eat whole-grain bread. 1
A concerted effort must be mounted for dietary intakes to change to meet the recommendation of 3 servings of whole grain per day, as suggested in Healthy People 2010. A public-private partnership emulating the National 5-A-Day Campaign for Better Health, which was formed to increase fruit and vegetable intake, may be precisely what is needed to boost whole-grain consumption. Bringing together all concerned sectors with a unified and clear message has dramatically increased awareness of the need for fruits and vegetables in the diet and made 5-A-Day a household word. The authors propose an analogous coalition of industry, academia, government, health advocacy and marketing organizations, and consumer groups. This partnership’s charge would be to raise awareness and knowledge of the important role of whole grains in health for health professionals and, ultimately, consumers. The goal would be to increase whole-grain consumption so that consumption levels by the population more closely match the dietary recommendations.
To create such a partnership, a nucleus of stakeholder groups interested in whole grains sponsored the “Grains for the Health of It” to bring together some participants who would be critical to a successful coalition. The role of whole grains as a tool for improved health was fully explored; the strength of the existing data, gaps in the data, strategies to increase numbers of whole grain products, and ways to disseminate the whole-grain message were discussed and debated.
Subsequent work focused on creating strategies to reach consumers with a whole-grain message. A first important step is to deliver the message to professionals. Then there is a need to use consumer persuasion and behavior-modification techniques to design clear, accurate, and compelling messages around whole grains.