Americans are eating a lot less produce than they say they are, and women overestimate their consumption of fruits and vegetables more than men.
According to results from a new consumer study conducted for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., men and women together are overestimating the amount of produce they're eating by some 33%.
At the same time, consumers in the study are underestimating the amount of fat they eat.
The study, "Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: Consumer Attitudes vs. Behavior," evaluated menu diaries kept by 2,000 households. The study compared what people said they ate with what they marked down on their detailed diaries of actual food consumed. Some 96% of the consumers agreed that people should include more fruits and vegetables in their diet but, in practice, they are apparently missing the mark.
Participants reported that they ate an average of nearly five servings (4.62 servings) of fruits and vegetables a day, just short of the current industrywide goal of five servings per day. But when compared with the actual amount they ate, determined by the data on their menu diaries, they were eating 13% fewer vegetables and 56% fewer servings of fruit than they thought they were eating, according to United. The trade group unveiled the study results at its annual convention held here last week.
In terms of age groups in the survey, younger adults, ages 18 to 34, were the most off the mark, according to the study. Those surveyed reported they ate a total of 4.7 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, when they actually consumed just 2.68 servings per day. Older Americans in the survey, ages 55 and older, had the best idea of their actual produce consumption. They reported an average of 4.73 servings of fruit and vegetables per day compared with actual consumption of 3.78 servings.
Tom Stenzel, president of United, said that he was not surprised that people over-reported the amount of produce they eat, but that he did not expect such a high over-estimation. He said he was particularly disturbed by how poorly young adults fared.
"We know fruits and vegetables are good for us so we think we're eating more," Stenzel said. "We're not supposed to be eating as much fats and sweets and yet we still do. It's one thing to talk a good game; it's another thing to do it.
The study should spur the produce industry to look for ways to better merchandise produce and educate consumers about the taste attributes of fruits and vegetables, he said. Fruit made out worse than vegetables in the study. The study found that, on average, people said they ate 2.18 servings per day of fruits, while their menu diaries revealed that they consumed just under one serving per day. For vegetables, those in the study reported that they ate an average of 2.44 servings per day compared with actual consumption of an average of 2.12 servings per day.
In terms of eating fat, people said they ate only two servings of fats, oils or sweets per day, while in reality they ate almost twice as much, some 3.80 servings per day.
Stenzel said the key is not to change awareness, but to change actual behavior.
The study was conducted for United by MCRA Information Services, Chicago. The firm used a nationally representative sample of households that complete pre-
Fact vs. Fiction
As shown in the charts below, results of a new survey found that consumers are eating less produce and more fats, oils and sweets than they think they are.