We Don’t Eat Enough Fruit and Vegetables – The Whole Story?

From the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, April edition:

The long story short: “Fruit and vegetable consumption has decreased in America in the last few years.” Likely not a surprise to those of you who have noticed the ballooning waistlines of the average American. However, is this really the case?
It’s certainly not the picture the USDA wants to paint. It definitely doesn’t seem to jive with these values:

which suggest that vegetable and fruit consumption has risen slightly during the time studied in the NHANES surveys (someone else must’ve eaten my 127 pounds of fresh fruit for me last year, BTW).

Do statistics lie? No, not if the data is pure. But how you interpret that data can make all the difference in the world.

The NHANES survey analysis showed a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who ate 2 or more servings of fruit as well as those who ate 3 or more servings of vegetables daily. The numbers are less than alarming: 28% down to 27% for fruit consumption, 35% down to 32% for vegetable consumption.

It doesn’t seem quite so incredulous, does it? The USDA data seems to indicate that, while Americans as a whole are not meeting USDA guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption, they are, as a whole, making an effort and improving their overall fruit and vegetable consumption.

Statistical gymnastics aside, some interesting points:

1) The NHANES data counts fried potatoes (!) as a serving of vegetables. Yikes. Hopefully the USDA data showing that per capita potato consumption has decreased is evidence of decreasing fried potato intake.

2) Dried fruit and fruit juice both counted as a serving of fruit. Sounds like the survey results could more accurately be stated, “Americans eat fewer fruit, vegetables, and concentrated sources of sugar.”

3) The researchers bemoaned the fact that the survey respondents tended to eat several servings of the same type of vegetable, as opposed to a diverse menu of “multi-colored fruits and vegetables”, as is touted by health officials.

I say, “Who cares?” I would be quite pleased to have a previously non-compliant client of mine eat only blueberries, only broccoli, or only spinach and consume multiple servings of those, than going crazy trying to include purple carrots, blood oranges, spaghetti squash, or any of the other myriad number of vegetables (or not trying at all).

The bottom line: Nagging is still an ineffective strategy for long-term behavioral change (insert bad marriage joke here).

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