Despite decades of industry and public health efforts, America's fruit and vegetable consumption continues to decline, according to newly released State of the Plate: America's Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Trends research from the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH).
The research shows people are eating fruits and vegetables less frequently, down nearly 10% since 2004, when the PBH State of the Plate reporting began. The most significant contributors to this decline have been a 16% decrease in vegetable consumption frequency, followed by a 15% reduction in juice intake. In the past five years alone, overall consumption has declined by 3%, indicating the trend is worsening every year.
Every five years, PBH conducts an in-depth analysis of fruit and vegetable consumption patterns in partnership with The NPD Group, which tracks how, when and where we eat fruits and vegetables. PBH's research report provides valuable insights to better understand Americans' eating behaviors and, ultimately, identifies opportunities to effectively help people enjoy more fruits and vegetables in all forms (i.e., fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice), more often.
"It is no exaggeration that we are in the midst of a fruit and vegetable consumption crisis in our country. Further, this underconsumption is not only pervasive among all age groups but it is also persistent," said Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, president and CEO of PBH. "The PBH State of the Plate research report shows most Americans currently eat fruits and vegetables on just one occasion or less each day. A decline in fruit and vegetable eating occasions does not bode well for the future of fruit and vegetable intake and, most importantly, Americans' health and happiness."
"We were already long falling behind in our consumption goals, but much of this new data is especially striking considering we are also in the midst of a worsening obesity epidemic as well as a global pandemic in which consuming foods that support our immune system like fruits and vegetables is even more critical," Reinhardt Kapsak added. "Research continues to show that eating more fruits and vegetables is the single most important action people can take for better health and happiness. Yet, we're clearly failing Americans in making this action easy and enjoyable, given the continued decline in consumption. The time is NOW to rethink and reimagine how we improve fruit and vegetable consumption in America."
Additional Key Findings From The Report
• Vegetable intake has decreased in five out of eight age groups. Older adults (50+ years) are leading the way in declines, a particular concern as they typically eat the most vegetables.
• Older millennials are slacking, declining in fruit and vegetable eating occasions and trending higher than other age groups in not eating fruits.
• Fruit consumption is down among kids. Older millennials are in their peak parenting years, and their behaviors may be affecting their families. In fact, children 1-3 years old have shown a significant decline in fruit consumption. Intake is also down in children 4-8 years old, which is especially alarming because young children are among the highest fruit consumers.
• Generation Z is a promising generation of vegetable lovers. Young Gen Z consumers ages 1-14 years old are eating vegetables more frequently.
Juice intake has declined. Consumption of juice is down among ALL age groups and to the greatest extent in young children. This is particularly topical as the new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in December, calls out the alarming shortfall in American produce consumption and includes 100% fruit and vegetable juices as options for meeting recommendations.
• Already popular fruits have increased. While overall fruit intake remains low, people have turned more frequently to bananas, grapes, blueberries, strawberries and oranges in the past five years.
Handy, simple veggies are increasing. Potatoes, salads, avocados, tomato sauce/paste and salsa have been increasing as go-to veggies over the past five years.
• One-fourth of vegetables are consumed through dining out. People of all ages get a sizable portion of their veggie intake dining out, via fast food, casual dining, cafeterias, delivery and/or other means. With people working more from home and preparing more meals at home, this creates concern that veggie eating may continue to drop.
• Most fruits and vegetables are eaten at home, paired with other favorite foods. When Americans do consume produce, many people enjoy their fruits and vegetables coupled with basic, everyday staple meals such as cereals – both hot and cold – yogurt, sandwiches and burgers.
With the new PBH State of the Plate report coinciding with the release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as 2021 being declared the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, PBH and its members have rallied together to declare the next five years as "A New Era of Conscious Consumption," focusing on truly moving the needle to help all Americans easily enjoy more fruits and vegetables every day.
"Conscious consumption is the act of having acute awareness regarding what we are purchasing and eating," said Reinhardt Kapsak. "Our choices have rippling effects, not just on our own health and emotional well-being, but also on our families, communities and the environment. We know conscious consumption makes us and our world better, but we must simplify this call to action to realistically work within Americans' lifestyles, across all ages and stages of life, socioeconomic levels and cultural backgrounds."
Reinhardt Kapsak also added that ease and repetition can turn consciously eating more fruits and vegetables into an unconscious or automatic behavior and, ultimately, a healthy habit, or to simply Have A Plant®. Consider these three ways to turn consciously trying to eat more fruits and vegetables into an ongoing, automatic behavior:
At the core of this initiative, PBH will continue to ground all efforts in its science-based KNOW-FEEL-DO™ Behavioral Framework to better help consumers act on fruit and vegetable consumption intentions with emotion-based, realistic solutions that move beyond knowledge (the knowing) to tap into how people feel (the feeling) about produce in ways that inspires more action (the doing). PBH will continue to reach consumers with new ideas via its Have A Plant® Movement, extensive digital ecosystem and Have A Plant® Ambassador Network.
In addition, PBH will soon conduct custom consumer behavioral research in an effort to identify trends and increase new, more sustainable fruit and vegetable eating habits. These insights, as well as innovations identified by the multi-sector coalition, will be shared by PBH at the first-ever National Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Summit in 2022.