The Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Crisis
Ensuring adequate intake of fruit and vegetables is central to public health nutrition messages everywhere. Why? Scientific research demonstrates the importance of fruit and vegetable intake to reduce the risk of and manage chronic diseases as well as improve health and well-being.
Each edition of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), the gold standard in evidence-based diet and nutrition research, stresses the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption and consistently recommends consuming produce in all forms, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice. That’s why MyPlate, a visual depiction of eating patterns featuring 5 food groups and based on the DGA’s has conveyed the central message “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables” since the 2010 DGAs. Still, there’s been no significant increase in consumption over time.
We at the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) recognize the significant consumption crisis affecting not just our health, but also our culture, society and economy.
Click through the links below to explore the research supporting fruit & vegetable consumption:
State Of The Plate: America’s Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Trends, 2020
Decades of Insights
The Research Behind The Have A Plant® Movement
2020 PBH State Of The Plate: America’s Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Trends
We are experiencing a national fruit and vegetable consumption crisis that is affecting our health and happiness.
The vast majority of Americans do not meet recommended fruit and vegetable intake with 80% under-consuming fruit and nearly 90% under-consuming vegetables.1 Further, this underconsumption is not only pervasive but also persistent. Government data shows average intakes of fruits and vegetables have remained unchanged between the 2003-2004 and 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination “What We Eat In America” Surveys.2 More concerning is what this national consumption data does not show — the changing behaviors behind fruit and vegetable intake.
The 2020 PBH State of the Plate research, conducted in partnership with The NPD Group, utilizing the National Eating Trends® (NET®) database, illuminates these behaviors — namely that Americans have decreased their fruit and vegetable eating occasions by nearly 10% since 2004. This is particularly concerning through the lens of behavioral science, which places a premium on habit and repetition as precursors to lasting behavior change. In fact, PBH’s own research shows that, with increased days of consumption, come greater intakes of fruits and vegetables.3
For all these reasons and more, a decline in fruit and vegetable eating occasions does not bode well for the future of fruit and vegetable intake. Government, public health professionals, and the produce industry, in addition to many others, have invested in, and worked toward, increasing consumption for decades. MyPlate, and its accompanying message to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” visually punctuates the role of produce on the plate. Yet, to date, intake remains disappointing and subpar.
Fruit and vegetable eating occasions continue to decline. Over the past 16 years, the frequency in which Americans consume produce has decreased by nearly 10%. This amounts to a loss of at least one fruit/vegetable eating occasion per week. Between 2015-2020 alone, consumption declined by 3%, indicating that the trend is worsening every year. Within the fruit, vegetable, and juice categories, the most significant contributors have been decreased vegetable consumption frequency (down 16% since 2004 and 4% in the past five years) and a reduction in juice (down 15% since 2004 and 8% in the past five years). Fruit eating occasions (excluding juice) grew 10% between 2004-2020 and 3% between 2015-2020. Yet, even this growth in whole fruit intake over time has not been enough to overcome the net decline.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
- Bowman SA, Clemens JC, Friday JE, Schroeder N, Shimizu M, LaComb RP, and Moshfegh AJ. Food Patterns Equivalents Intakes by Americans: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2003-2004 and 2015-2016. Food Surveys Research Group. Dietary Data Brief No. 20, November 2018.
Decades Of Insights
PBH has been conducting consumer research for decades, as well as keeping tabs on scientific research regarding the relationship between fruits and vegetables and health status. In 2017, we branched out into the broader well-being space. Why? Because an emerging global data set has been pointing to increased fruit and vegetable consumption being predictive of increased happiness, life satisfaction and well-being.1
In a nutshell, here’s what we know to date.
How individuals feel overall is a mix of physical and emotional well-being. Good health is multi-faceted; top factors include physical exercise (84%), proper nutrition (80%) and reduced stress (73%). Eating “more vegetables” was stated as the most important dietary factor associated with good health by 80% of primary shoppers in trended studies. In fact, staying healthy was the top reason given to consume fruit and vegetables with close to three-fourths of shoppers (73%) reporting eating fruit and vegetables for this reason. Of note, only one-third of shoppers say they learned to eat fruits and vegetables as a child.2
Those who do not eat fruits and vegetables as often as 6-7 days in a week report not feeling as good physically or emotionally, and those who do not eat any fruits or vegetables are significantly more likely to report a feeling of hopelessness and disengagement in daily activities.3
Fruit and vegetable intake is habitual. With increased days per week intake, greater amounts are consumed per day.3 So, a good place to start is to support consumers in eating fruits and vegetables more days per week.
Those who eat fruits and veggies daily are significantly more likely to report being satisfied with their life as a whole. Seventy-three percent of people who ate vegetables 6-7 days of the week said they are satisfied with their life as a whole, compared to 68% of those who eat vegetables less often and 47% of people who eat no vegetables at all.3
Those who eat fruits and veggies daily are significantly more likely to report being happy in the short term. Sixty-five percent of people who ate vegetables 6-7 days of the week say they had been happy, compared to 55% of those who ate vegetables less often and 42% of people who ate no vegetables at all.3
Barriers are in the eye of the beholder. Over time, we have seen that consumers consistently cite common barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption such as finding fruit and vegetable options that appeal to the whole family, lack of preparation skills and physical limitations. Those who consumed fruit and vegetables less than 6 days per week were most likely to cite barriers such as these.3 However, those who consumed fruit and vegetables 6-7 days per week and said they were very happy/happy were also significantly likely to agree with barrier statements — indicating that these barriers can be overcome for those committed to a positive lifestyle and outlook. This is one reason that it will always be important to provide practical information and tips to support shoppers in increasing fruit and vegetable intake.2
- Mujcic R and Oswald AJ. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Pub Health. 2016; 106: 1504-1510.
- Produce for Better Health Foundation. Primary Shoppers’ Attitudes and Beliefs Related to Fruit & Vegetable Consumption, 2012-2016.
- Produce for Better Health Foundation. Novel Approaches to Measuring and Promoting Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, 2017.
The Research Behind The Have A Plant® Movement
An Invitation For Millennials, Gen Z & Anyone Who Eats
PBH is committed to transforming how people think about and enjoy fruits and vegetables. We are championing a bold initiative – that leverages insights from behavioral science – to tap into consumers’ emotional connections to food. The Have A Plant® Movement is a transformational approach to positively shift fruit and vegetable behaviors, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Together, these groups represent the largest demographic in the United States and are the current and future parents of the next generation of fruit and vegetable eaters.
Millennials and Gen Z consumers are distinctive—they are growing up in a new digital world that’s directly impacting food purchasing decisions, creating the opportunity for more efficient and effective communication on the why and the how of increased fruit and vegetable consumption. They have an inherent interest in the content of their food and understand that what they eat impacts their physical health and how they feel. However, they struggle with competing information sources, and the challenges of maintaining healthy eating patterns in their increasingly fragmented, time-pressured daily lives.
In 2018, PBH led an intensive consumer research journey to identify effective strategies that could help motivate Americans to meet daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables and reverse lack-luster consumption trends. This multi-faceted research effort included conversations with 300 consumers; an analysis of 1.2 million social posts; interviews with 23 produce industry stakeholders; and a deep-dive assessment of more than 100 consumer behavior studies.
What did we find? Rather than a prescriptive recommendation to eat a certain amount of fruits and vegetables each day, consumers (particularly Gen Z and Millennials) want actionable, realistic and FUN approaches that make eating fruits and vegetables easy, helping them feel confident, happy and healthy. The Have A Plant® Movement is a way to tap into the emotional connection consumers have to the fruit and vegetable eating experience while inspiring long-term, sustainable behavior change. And it does so with a no-nonsense approach that’s simple, understandable, and, importantly for this audience, non-prescriptive.
We know many people are trying to add more plant foods to their diets, for a variety of reasons. Fruits and vegetables – whether they’re fresh, frozen, canned, packaged, dried or 100% juice – are some of the most beneficial plant foods on the planet. And everyone can enjoy happier, healthier lives simply by eating more of them. So here’s the plan. Have A Plant®!
View the State of the Plate Reports