Monday, March 05, 2012 by Lee Mannering

Study links fruit and vegetable servings with shopping environment

Now here’s something a bit different from the typical produce consumption research we’ve seen: a new study from RTI and George Washington University says that the number of servings of fruits and vegetables people eat may have more to do with the food shopping experience than with produce costs. The study, published in the February issue of Public Health Nutrition, examined the connection between three characteristics of the food shopping environment (quality, selection and convenience) and the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables in an inner-city, low-income population.

Researchers found that study participants who shopped in stores, co-ops or farmer’s markets they considered convenient and offering high levels of quality and selection were more likely to eat three or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Cost was not found to be a factor in how many servings of fruits and vegetables participants ate. The researchers found that those who listed cost as a barrier to purchasing fruits and vegetables ate the same amount of produce as those who did not.

Fruit and vegetable intake was unusually high in this primarily minority and low-income inner-city sample. The majority of participants (85.5 percent) reported eating more than three servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In addition, participants who made six shopping trips per month ate more fruits and vegetables than those who shopped an average of once a week.

According to the researchers, the study findings suggest that efforts to promote healthy eating by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables should be guided by an understanding of the importance of personal, subjective assessments of the food shopping environment.

There have been a number of efforts mentioned here on Field to Fork (NYC green carts and Chicago produce buses) that take aim at increasing fruit and vegetable access in underserved communities. In those instances, it was found that consumers purchased produce via these outlets due in large part to convenience and quality. It’s also encouraging to see that the RTI and GWU study supports the produce pricing research we conducted a couple of years ago and continues to bust the myth that consumers don’t purchase fruits and vegetables due to cost.

Are there innovative programs going on in your community to help improve the access and quality of fresh produce to underserved communities? If so, please share those in the Increasing Consumption Community on PMA Xchange.

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