According to a new study just released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, just one in 10 Americans eats the recommended daily allowances of fruits and vegetables. West Virginians are the worst of us; Alaskans eat the most vegetables and folks in Washington D.C. place first in fruit.
Adults should eat 1.5–2.0 cups of fruits and 2.0–3.0 cups of vegetables per day and the health benefits of doing so are well-known. Overall, according to the CDC’s just-updated 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 12.2% of adults meet fruit recommendations ranging from 7.3% in West Virginia to 15.5% in DC, and 9.3% meet vegetable recommendations, ranging from 5.8% in West Virginia to 12.0% in Alaska.
In 2013, 13.1% of respondents met fruit intake recommendations and 8.9% met vegetable recommendations.
Consumption is lower among men, young adults, and adults with greater poverty, and varied by state in both the original study and the recent update.
Among subgroups, the largest disparities in meeting the recommendation for fruit intake was by sex (15.1% among women compared with 9.2% among men), while the largest disparities in meeting the recommendation for vegetable intake was by poverty (11.4% among adults in the highest household income category compared with 7.0% among adults below or close to the poverty level).
Women, Hispanics Lead The Way
Intake was low across all socioeconomic groups. Overall, fruit intake recommendation was highest among women (15.1%), adults aged 31–50 years (13.8%), and Hispanics (15.7%); vegetable intake recommendation was highest among women (10.9%), adults aged ≥51 years (10.9%), and persons in the highest income group (11.4%).
CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data conducts an annual, state-based, random-digit–dialed landline and cellular telephone household survey of noninstitutionalized, civilian U.S. adults aged ≥18 years to collect data on health and health risk behaviors related to chronic disease.
In the update, BRFSS asked six questions to assess how many times per day, week, or month the participants consumed 1) 100% fruit juice, 2) whole fruit, 3) dried beans, 4) dark green vegetables, 5) orange vegetables, and 6) other vegetables, during the previous month.
In 2015, the median frequency of reported intake among all respondents was one time per day for fruit and 1.7 times per day for vegetables (Table 1). Overall in 2015, the percentage of adults meeting fruit and vegetable recommendations varied by selected characteristics (Table 2) (Table 3). A higher proportion of women met both fruit and vegetable recommendations (15.1% and 10.9%, respectively) than did men (9.2% and 7.6%, respectively), and a higher proportion of women met recommendations in most states.
Younger Adults Bringing Up The Rear
By age group, young adults aged 18–30 years accounted for the lowest proportion of persons meeting recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake (9.2% and 6.7%, respectively); this proportion was significantly different from the referent group of adults aged ≥51 years, 12.4% and 10.9% of whom met intake recommendations for fruit and vegetables, respectively.
Findings varied by state; in 41 states, a significantly lower percentage of young adults met recommendations for vegetable intake than did older adults, whereas this pattern was only observed for fruit intake in 18 states. A significantly higher proportion of Hispanics and blacks met recommendations for fruit intake than did whites; however, these differences were only significant in 10 states.
There were no significant differences in meeting recommendations for vegetable intake by race/ethnicity. In general, by state, lower percentages of blacks met recommendation for vegetable intake than did whites and Hispanics. Overall, a significantly higher percentage of persons with higher incomes met recommendations for vegetable intake, although no significant differences for meeting recommendations for fruit intake were observed.
What Can Be Done?
A recent review identified several barriers, including high cost, limited availability and access, and perceived lack of preparation time. To address cost, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program supports projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by providing incentives at the point of purchase; FINI projects are currently underway in 26 states.
The CDC Guide to Strategies to Increase the Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables (download the free e-book here) features 10 strategies to increase access to and improve the availability of fruits and vegetables. Examples include starting or expanding farm-to-institution programs in childcare, schools, hospitals, workplaces, and other institutions; improving access to retail stores and markets that sell high quality fruits and vegetables; and ensuring access to fruits and vegetables in cafeterias and other food service venues in worksites, hospitals, and universities.