Written by Jane Wark, Clinical Practice Lead for Public Health Dietitians, Public Health Nutrition

The results of a recent Health Chat survey shed some light on our fruit and vegetable consumption.

Health Chat survey. The survey was completed by individuals living in Fraser Health, many of them Fraser Health staff, who volunteered to participate. The majority of respondents were female and middle age or older. Let’s explore what was discovered.

Who eats more fruits and vegetables?

There was a gender difference, with women reporting eating more fruits and vegetables compared to men. Also, higher income individuals said they ate fruits and vegetables more often than those with a lower income. But regardless of these differences, the overall intake of any group falls far short of the recommended intake. And that’s not good news. The median number of servings per day was reported at three for men and five for women. The vast majority of people are not meeting the recommended seven to ten servings.

Who thinks they eat healthy?

Despite most of the survey participants not eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables, 91 per cent believed that they eat “very healthy” and “somewhat healthy”. This leave us scratching our heads – why the discrepancy?  When asked to define healthy eating, the top choices of respondents were “fresh foods”, “well balanced” and “unprocessed foods”. So all we can gather from this is that people must think they are eating healthier than they actually are.

Why don’t we eat more fruits and vegetables? 

On one hand, 95 per cent of respondents know it's important to eat fruit and vegetables. They also reported having the skills to prepare these foods, and enjoying eating them. On the other hand, the reported low intake of fruit and veggies tells us this thinking is not being translated into behaviour. To improve the population’s diet, it’s important to understand the reasons for that. The top reasons cited by those who did not achieve the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables were:

  • Seven servings is too many (30 per cent)
  • I didn’t know I needed to eat seven servings (29 per cent of males and 11 per cent of females)
  • They are too expensive (13 per cent) 

The promising news is that most people said they like to eat fruits and vegetables. That is helpful to keep in mind as we work to find ways to improve the population’s diet.

Where do respondents get their nutrition advice?

There is no shortage of nutrition information available – some good, some bad.  The most common sources of nutrition advice reported by survey respondents are:

  1. Friends and family (39 per cent)
  2. Magazines (31 per cent)
  3. Books (26 per cent)
  4. Internet (22 per cent)

These findings are concerning because there is a lot of misinformation in the media, and it is often quite convincing. Only 11 per cent of respondents reported getting nutrition advice from a dietitian. Twenty-two per cent of people responded “I don’t get any advice”.

So what does all of this tell us? 

We need to be aware of the challenges Fraser Health residents face when it comes to eating healthy.  This survey shows that we need to pay more attention to men.  And we need to find ways individuals with a lower income can access more fruits and vegetables.  If we want to help people eat better, we want to make sure they know where to get evidence-based nutrition information. Lastly, we can continue to help individuals to understand the recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, and why it is important to meet them.

If you would like more information on the Health Chat survey, contact Jane Wark.

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