Government guidelines recommend that adults eat at least one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of veggies daily. Yet, only 12.2 percent of American adults meet that minimum fruit requirement and even fewer — 9.3 percent — meet the vegetable one, the CDC’s study reports.
That’s dismal news. For a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with all sorts of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.
One Harvard University study involving more than 110,000 men and women found, for example, that people who consumed eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke over a 14-year period.
Collecting the data
For their new study, CDC researchers used state-level data from a 2015 government survey of a nationally representative sample of 319,415 American adults. Participants were asked how many times in the previous month they had eaten 100-percent fruit juice, whole fruit, dried beans, dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, and other vegetables. (French fries were not included in the “other vegetable” category because federal dietary guidelines recommend limiting their consumption due to their high fat content.)
As already noted, the data revealed that only 12.3 percent of the respondents met the minimum daily recommendation for fruit, ranging from 7.3 percent in West Virginia to 15.5 percent in Washington, D.C. And only 9.3 percent met the minimum recommendation for vegetables, ranging from 5.8 percent in West Virginia to 12 percent in Alaska.
Like all the other states, Minnesota scored rather poorly. In the study, only 11.6 percent of Minnesotans reported eating enough fruit, and only 8.1 percent reported eating enough vegetables.
In fact, the median daily intake of fruit for Minnesotans in the study was 1 serving, while the median daily intake of vegetables was 1.6 servings.
That means, of course, that half of the Minnesotans were eating less than those amounts daily.
Here are some additional findings from the study:
- Nationally, the groups most likely to meet the minimum fruit requirement were women, Hispanics, and people between the ages of 31 to 50.
- The groups most likely to meet the vegetable requirement nationally were women, adults aged 51 and older, and people in the highest income group.
- A higher percentage of blacks and Hispanics met the recommendation for fruit intake than did whites, although these differences were significant only in 10 states. Minnesota was not one of those states.
- Generally, lower percentages of blacks met the recommendations for vegetable intake than did whites and Hispanics. This was true in Minnesota, although both blacks and whites in the state were less likely to meet the recommendations for vegetable intake than people nationally. Hispanic Minnesotans, however, were more likely to meet the recommendations.
The CDC researchers point to high cost and limited availability as major barriers preventing some Americans from following the fruit-and-veggie dietary guidelines. Many people also mistakenly believe that vegetables and fruits requiring extra prep time in the kitchen, they add.
The researchers also note that the CDC has identified 10 strategies to increase access to fruits and vegetables, including
- 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 vegetable in cafeterias and other food service venues in worksites, hospitals and universities.
Cost is a major barrier
There’s evidence that these programs work, but the stubborn stumbling block for many families remains cost. Another study published this week found that when healthful foods (like vegetables and dairy products) cost more than unhealthful foods (like salty and sugary snacks), Americans are much less likely to have a high-quality diet.
And healthful foods are often more expensive, the study found.
“We found that, on average, healthier perishable foods were nearly twice as expensive as unhealthy packaged foods: 60 cents vs. 31 cents per serving, respectively,” said David Kern, the study’s lead author and an adjunct professor at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, in a released statement. “As the gap between neighborhood prices of healthier and unhealthier foods got wider, study participants had lower odds of having a healthier diet.”
Interestingly, that finding was particularly true among middle-income people and people with a higher education.
Kern and his colleagues say we need to examine more closely how price-related policies— such as taxes on soda and junk food and subsidies for fruits and vegetables — could be used to improve the quality of the American diet.
For more information: The CDC study was published online in the November 17 issue of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), where it can be read in full. Kern’s study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, where it, too, can be read in full.