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March 19, 2007

Americans Don’t Consume Enough Fruits and Vegetables

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, Americans should consume at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day as part of a healthy diet. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report that Americans are not meeting these minimum levels. Their findings, which include a breakdown by age, gender, ethnicity and income, will be published in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“We found that fruit and vegetable consumption patterns are low for all American adults and that there was no trend toward increased consumption between 1988 and 2002. In addition, minorities and poorer individuals were less likely to meet the guidelines. These findings raise concern because it has been shown that fruit and vegetable availability and quality is inadequate in disadvantaged communities,” said Sarah Stark Casagrande, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

The researchers analyzed data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) to determine trends over time for fruit and vegetable consumption among U.S. adults. The study included 14,997 adults from 1988 to 1994 and 8,910 adults from 1999 to 2002.

The Hopkins researchers report that Americans have not increased their fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 11 percent of adults met the USDA guidelines for eating fruits and vegetables during both periods of time, indicating no change in consumption. During the 1999 to 2002 study period, 28 percent and 32 percent of U.S. adults met USDA guidelines for fruits and vegetables, respectively.

Approximately 62 percent did not consume any whole fruit servings, and 75 percent did not consume fruit juice. One-quarter of the study participants reported eating no vegetables. Comparing the two sets of data, there was a small decrease—from 35 percent in 1988 to 1994 to 32 percent in 1999 to 2002—in the percentage of the study group who met the daily vegetable recommendation.

Older study participants were more likely to meet fruit and vegetable guidelines. Non-Hispanic Blacks and Mexican Americans, when compared to non-Hispanic Whites, were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Individuals with higher income and more education were more likely to meet the USDA guidelines.

“With all of the complex messages in the media related to diet, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is very straightforward,” said Tiffany L. Gary, PhD, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. “Unfortunately, we still have not met the mark. We are hopeful that new national initiatives will bring forth necessary increases in consumption.”

The researchers suggest that behavioral and environmental interventions, especially those targeting low income populations, are necessary to help Americans make changes in order to consume a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables.

“Have Americans Increased Their Fruit and Vegetable Intake? The Trends Between 1988 and 2002” was co-authored by Sarah Stark Casagrande, MHS; Youfa Wang, MD, PhD; Cheryl Anderson, PhD, MPH; and Tiffany L Gary, PhD, all of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

AJPM Editorial Office Contact: Eileen Leahy at 858-457-7292 or eAJPM@ucsd.edu.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.