The number of servings of fruits and vegetables people eat may have more to do with the food shopping experience than with produce costs, according to a study by researchers at RTI International and George Washington University.
The study, published in the February issue of Public Health Nutrition, examined the connection between three characteristics of the food shopping environment—quality, selection and convenience—and the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables in an inner-city, low-income population.
Researchers found that study participants who shopped in stores, co-ops or farmer’s markets they considered convenient and offering high levels of quality and selection were more likely to eat three or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
Cost was not found to be a factor in how many servings of fruits and vegetables participants ate. The researchers found that those who listed cost as a barrier to purchasing fruits and vegetables ate the same amount of produce as those who did not.
“We found that low-income shoppers do not simply make dietary choices based on cost and availability,” said Jonathan L. Blitstein, Ph.D., research psychologist at RTI and lead author of the study. “Shoppers also consider less tangible aspects of the food shopping environment related to quality and satisfaction.”
The researchers conducted a secondary analysis of baseline data provided by 495 participants who took part in a social marketing intervention during the winter of 2007-2008.
Fruit and vegetable intake was unusually high in this primarily minority and low-income inner-city sample. The majority of participants (85.5 percent) reported eating more than three servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Additionally, participants who made six shopping trips per month ate more fruits and vegetables than those who shopped once a week.
The study findings suggest that efforts to promote healthy eating by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables should be guided by an understanding of the importance of personal, subjective assessments of the food shopping environment.
“This study contributes to the growing literature on effective ways to work in neighborhood settings to promote a more healthful diet among people with lower incomes,” Blitstein said. “Working with local retailers to improve shopping convenience and provide a good selection of quality food items may influence consumers’ overall fruit and vegetable intake, independent of price and availability.”