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Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Falls Short of National Goal

Only 14 percent of adults consume 2+ servings of fruit and 3+ servings of vegetables daily, according to the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009. Even fewer adolescents – just 9.5 percent – consume this much produce on a daily basis.

This first ever report, using behavioral data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health surveillance systems, examined 2007 fruit and vegetable consumption on a national and state level in adults (over 18 years) and youth (adolescents in grades 9–12).

About one-third of adults (32.8%) and adolescents (32.2%) consume fruit on a daily basis but this number falls considerably short of the CDC goal of 75% as outlined in Healthy People 2010†. Roughly 27 percent of adults and just 13.2 percent of adolescents consume vegetables on a daily basis. This compares to the Healthy People 2010 goal of 50%.

As expected, fruit and vegetable consumption varied by state. Not surprisingly, California and Hawaii had high levels of consumption. But, the District of Columbia had the highest levels of fruit, vegetable and combined fruit/vegetable consumption at 41.6%, 33.0% and 20.1% respectively. Those living in the New England states also had higher than average consumption levels of fruits and vegetables.

States with low fruit and vegetable consumption tended to be located in the mid-west or parts of the South where obesity is more prevalent. Oklahoma had the lowest fruit consumption at 20.2%. Mississippi had the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption at just 8.8%, with Oklahoma and South Carolina coming in a close second at just 9.3%. Residents of Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa also had lower than average consumption of fruits and vegetables.

In addition to tracking behavior, the State Indicator Report examined policy and environmental indicators which measure several aspects of a state’s ability to support consumption of fruits and vegetables. As an example, just eight states have state level healthier food retail policies and only twenty have state food policy councils.

The three main areas examined in the Report include 1) the availability of healthier food retail in communities, 2) healthier foods and nutrition in schools to model and reinforce behavior; and 3) food system support – policies and programs to get produce from farm to consumer.

Measures examined in the report include the following:

Healthy Food Retailers Within ½ Mile – In the U.S., 72% of census tracts support healthy food retailers, ranging from a low of 56% in S. Dakota to a high of 84% in California.

Farmer Markets per 100,000 With a U.S. average of 1.7, Vermont had the highest at 10.5 and Georgia had the lowest at 0.2.

Percent of Middle Schools that Offer Fruit & Vegetables – On average, 20.9% of middle schools offer healthier food choices to their students. Progressive states include Michigan (39.0%), NH (37.6%), New York (35.7%), Vermont (35.7%), California (32.1%), and Indiana (31.7%). West Virginia had the lowest at just 4.5%.

Percent of Cropland Harvested for Fruits & Vegetables – In the U.S., just 2.5% of cropland is dedicated to fruits and vegetables. Important agricultural states for fruits & vegetables include Florida (42.9%), California (34.4%), Maine (29.3%), Hawaii (27.6%), Massachusetts (23.2%), New Jersey (17.9%), and Washington (14.9%).

Healthy People 2010 is a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives for the nation to achieve over the first decade of the new century. Created by scientists both inside and outside of government, it identifies a wide range of public health priorities and specific, measurable objectives. Two overarching goals of Healthy People 2010 are to 1) increase quality and years of healthy life and 2) eliminate health disparities. The government is already working on developing Healthy People 2020 and invites the public to participate in its development.

The Bottom Line

Americans are falling considerably short of the stated goal to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. This is even more evident with our youth.

Having access to tasty, fresh produce makes it much easier to incorporate these healthy foods into our diet. States like California – well-known for its availability of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables - makes it much easier for the average person to reach this nutritional goal.

If you live in a state that doesn’t offer a wide assortment of healthy foods at retail stores or in the school system, then your involvement can initiate change. Suggest that local retailers stock more of these items. Spend your dollars at establishments that offer healthier fare. Pay attention to what local schools offer kids at lunchtime and snacks. Get involved with the local school system to make sure that school officials and policy makers make healthy food choices available.

If you’re not sure how to start, the Report’s National Action Guide provides informational links on how to improve access to healthy food in underserved communities. Leadership for Healthy Communities Action Strategies Toolkit is a comprehensive guide on how to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity.

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