As disclosed from a recent large survey of adults, only a paltry 12.3% and 10.0% of surveyed subjects met fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, respectively. Meeting fruit intake recommendations was highest among Hispanic adults (16.4%) and lowest among males (10.1%). Meeting vegetable intake recommendations was highest among adults over 50 years of age (12.5%) and lowest among those with low income (6.8%).
What are the implications for public health practice?
Regarding public health, states can use this information to tailor efforts to populations at high risk (e.g., men, young adults, and adults with lower income) and to implement enhanced interventions, policies, and programs that help persons increase fruit and vegetable consumption to support immune function and prevent chronic diseases.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING?
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise incorporating more fruits and vegetables into U.S. residents’ diets as part of healthy dietary patterns. Adults should consume 1.5–2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2–3 cup-equivalents of vegetables daily. Such a healthy diet supports healthy immune function and–surprisingly–helps to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some cancers; having some of these conditions can even predispose persons to more severe illness and death from COVID-19. According to the most recent 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system that used data to estimate the percentage of states’ adult populations for 49 states and the District of Columbia. only 12.3% met fruit recommendations, ranging from 8.4% in West Virginia to 16.1% in Connecticut, and 10.0% met vegetable recommendations, ranging from 5.6% in Kentucky to 16.0% in Vermont. Some policies and programs that will increase access to fruits and vegetables in places where U.S. residents live, learn, work, and play, might increase consumption and improve health.
Perceived barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption include cost, as well as limited availability and access. For some persons, such barriers might have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, related to economic and supply chain disruptions that could further limit ability to access healthier foods. Tailored intervention efforts to increase fruit and vegetable intake are needed to reduce age, sex, racial/ethnic, and income disparities in meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations among U.S. adults. States and communities can take actions by supporting food policy councils (community-based coalitions often supporting a specific community such as households with incomes below the federal poverty level or persons from racial and ethnic minority groups) to build a more sustainable food system, supporting community retail programs to attract grocery stores and supermarkets to under-served communities to improve community food quality and increase healthy food access, promoting participation in federal nutrition assistance programs, and implementing nutrition incentive and produce prescription programs that provide resources for persons to purchase fruits and vegetables. Additional efforts might include the use of nutrition standards, organizational food service guidelines, and farm-to-institution approaches to ensure that culturally preferred fruit and vegetable offerings are available in work sites, hospitals, park and recreation centers, food banks and pantries, restaurants, and other locations. Education and social marketing can also help to ensure awareness of the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables to consume and how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks. Finally, conditions in which persons are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age, known as social determinants of health, affect health and influence the opportunities available to practice healthy behaviors. Ensuring that all persons, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to enough foods, including fruits and vegetables that are safe, high quality, and meet their dietary needs and food preferences, requires extensive multilevel collaboration.
Needless to say, too few U.S. residents consume enough of the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Following a dietary pattern that includes sufficient amounts can help protect against chronic conditions that are among the leading causes of mortality in the United States; some even associated with more severe illness from COVID-19. States can use these findings to guide their programs to support these goals. Continued efforts to will help mitigate health disparities among U.S. residents.
Everyone who reads this should endeavor to consume copious amounts fruits and vegetables. From this data, it is virtually impossible to consume too many of these constituents.