Predictors For Fruit and Veggie Intake in Young Adults

September 28, 2012

From the latest issue of Food, Nutrition & Science, a study from The University of Minnesota explores factors affecting fruit and vegetable consumption in young adults.

This article originally appeared on Food, Nutrition & Science.

Various individual and socioenvironmental factors during adolescence and emerging adulthood influence fruit and vegetable intake in young adulthood (19 to 30 years old), says a recent study from The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The study, which looked at 1,130 men and women over five and 10-year periods, found that factors like food preferences and home food availability of fruits and vegetables were the most predictive.

“Establishing healthful eating patterns during the period of transition from adolescence to young adulthood is important to support the completion of growth, maintenance of good physical health, prevention of chronic disease, and promotion of a healthy weight trajectory. There is growing recognition that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a high-risk period for the development of obesity as well as unhealthy eating patterns. Emerging adult populations should be the target of efforts to promote healthy eating as they establish independence and assume growing responsibility for purchasing and preparing their own food,” says Dr. Nicole Larson, study co-author.

National guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake in young adults recommend consuming at least two cups of fruits and two to three cups of vegetables daily. But few young adults meet these recommendations. In this study, researchers found that average daily intake was 0.9 servings, or ½ cup, of fruit and 1.8 servings, or 1 cup, of vegetables.

In the five year model, the individual factors in emerging adulthood (19 to 23 years old) that predicted higher intake of both fruits and vegetables in young adulthood (after adjusting for energy intake and sociodemographic characteristics) included greater concern about health, lower perceived time barriers to healthy eating, liking the taste and less frequent fast food consumption. Other influences toward higher intake included vegetable preparation behaviors, perceived benefits of healthy eating and self-efficacy for healthy eating during emerging adulthood.

Socioenvironmental factors, like a significant other’s healthy eating attitudes, the greater home availability of fruits and vegetables and the lower home availability of unhealthy foods also contributed to higher intakes of fruit and vegetables into young adulthood. However, following adjustment for intake, these factors only predicted increases in intake of fruit and not vegetables.

Interestingly, in the 10-year model, comparable results were observed, though after adjusting for energy intake during adolescence and sociodemographics, the only remaining influence was simply liking the taste of fruit or vegetables. Similarly, the recent 2012 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, also found taste to be the most important factor in getting Americans to eat more fruits and veggies. The good news is that Americans do report they are trying to improve the healthfulness of their diets, with nearly nine in ten trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Sharon Palmer, RD, dietitian and author of The Plant-Powered Diet, says that
there are many health benefits linked with increased fruit and vegetable consumption, including lower risk of chronic diseases and healthy weight. But consumers are having a hard time meeting the requirement for fruits and vegetables. Often, people are limited in time, she says. They’re eating on the run, eating lunch at fast food restaurants, and cooking less, which can make it difficult to consume more fruits and vegetables.  

“The message needs to be that servings of fruits and vegetables need to be consumed at each meal in order to meet the goal. It’s not enough to add a leaf of lettuce on your sandwich and drink a glass of orange juice for breakfast. A whole piece of fruit for dessert, a soup and/or salad at lunch and dinner in addition to the main course, and fruits and vegetables for snacks needs to be the new norm,” says Palmer.

Future studies in this area may look at additional potential predictors of fruit and veggie intake, including measures of environments beyond the home, like the physical and social aspects of work, school and food retail environments, pricing and social networks. More targeted interventions could address patterns, like the influence of a significant other’s healthy eating attitudes during emerging adulthood, the inclusion of more fruit at breakfast, or the level of vegetable intake based on home food prep.

According to the World Health Organization, daily consumption of fruit and vegetables can help prevent major diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Approximately 1.7 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to low fruit and vegetable consumption. 

“Among other factors, the results of our study emphasized the importance of making healthy eating convenient. Although manufacturers have introduced several convenience fruit and vegetable options in recent years, there are likely additional opportunities for retailers and manufacturers to help consumers in making healthier choices,” adds Larson.

This article originally appeared on Food, Nutrition & Science.