Not enough Bendigo adults are eating the recommended daily amount of fresh fruit and vegetables, a Deakin University study has found.
Lead researcher Dr Katherine Livingstone, from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), said results from a survey of 14 000 adults showed men, younger adults and people living in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods are least likely to meet Australian Dietary Guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption.
“These results are concerning because eating adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables can help prevent obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer,” Dr Livingstone said.
“The data also has national relevance because it aligns with the Australian average and suggest broader health implications.”
The survey data was collected as part of the 2014 Greater Bendigo Active Living Census and showed Bendigo residents consumed an average of 1.5 serves of fruit and 2.7 serves of vegetables per day.
“This is significantly below the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend most adults eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables per day,” Dr Livingstone said.
Overall, 46 per cent of residents met guidelines for fruit, 9 per cent for vegetables and 7 per cent met guidelines for both.
The data also showed:
- Women consumed more serves of vegetables and fruit per day compared to men.
- Older age groups consumed a greater number of serves of vegetables and fruit compared to younger age groups.
- Those living in more disadvantaged areas consumed fewer serves of vegetables and fruit per day.
As part of the Active Living Census, City of Greater Bendigo residents self-reported the amount of fruit and vegetables they consumed and completed an open-ended question about any difficulties meeting recommendations.
The most common reasons given for not eating enough fruit and vegetables were lack of time, the perception that guidelines were difficult to achieve, food and taste preferences, and the high cost and limited availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.
When these barriers were broken down by specific population groups, the data showed:
- Food and taste preferences was the largest barrier for men, and a perceived small appetite was the major barrier for women.
- Lack of time was key for young to middle aged adults, while lack of appetite was more important for older adults.
- Cost and availability of fresh fruit and vegetables were key barriers for rural and disadvantaged population groups.
“Work hours left residents feeling there was little time to prepare and cook vegetables at dinner time, and respondents said it was too hard to take vegetables to work for lunch,” Dr Livingstone said.
“Dinner was reported as the only meal in which vegetables were included and residents indicated that it was ‘too much’ to consume five serves of vegetables in one meal. There was also a perception that fruit and vegetables spoil quickly, whereas processed foods are easier to handle and store.
“This shows there’s still work to do to change the perception that eating fruit and vegetables is hard. We need to provide simple, practical strategies to make healthy eating the easy option in anyone’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack routine.”
Dr Livingstone said the Bendigo results were largely in-line with the Australian average where only 51 per cent of adults meet recommendations for fruit, 8 per cent meet recommendations for vegetables and 5 per cent meet recommendations for both.
“Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is a national policy priority,” she said.
“The findings, published in international research journal Appetite, reinforce that one size does not fit all when it comes to barriers to meeting dietary guidelines. Our hope is the findings will help policy and health promotion practitioners tailor healthy eating interventions to specific population groups.”
City of Greater Bendigo Health and Wellbeing Director Vicky Mason said she welcomed the research based on results from the City’s 2014 Active Living Census.
“The City of Greater Bendigo has a strong commitment to the health and wellbeing of our community and in 2019 undertook a further census covering the six local government areas in the Loddon Campaspe region as part of the Victorian Government funded Healthy Heart of Victoria initiative,” Ms Mason said.
“The 2019 census data confirms that residents are still not eating the recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables and this new information will be used to help Councils in the Loddon Campaspe region develop their next Health and Wellbeing Plans due in 2021.
“Local Government has an important role to play in developing infrastructure that supports people to be more active, town planning decisions that ensure residents can access healthy foods, and advocacy that ensures quality food is available and affordable in our region.
“In Greater Bendigo we are working hard implementing a range of initiatives that encourage residents to eat healthier foods like fruit and vegetables, drink more water and become more active. It’s important for our community as we work to prevent chronic disease and keep people well and out of hospitals and health centres,” Ms Mason said.
Dr Livingstone’s tips to increase your fruit and vegetable consumption:
- Include vegetables at meals and snacks, not just the evening meal. For breakfast, try tomatoes or mushrooms and spinach on toast.
- Replace snacks high in added sugars and salt with fruits and vegetables. For example, take a zip-locked bag of chopped vegetables, such as carrot, capsicum, snow peas or beans, to work to snack on during the day.
- Tinned or frozen fruit and vegetables can be lower cost options to fresh produce. They also store well and may help reduce food waste. Look for no added-salt and -sugar options where possible.