The Disparity of Health in America
Some top factors and trends influencing the availability and consumption of nutritious foods in the U.S. are affordability, inconvenience, less enticing and tasty options to choose from, and a lack of proximity to grocery stores that sell fresh produce.
Consuming fruits and vegetables is not convenient
- According to Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University, eating fruits and vegetables is not very easy due to the fact that they are not conveniently sold (for example, at most fast-food restaurants) and most consumers view them as being difficult and time-consuming to prepare due to process of rinsing, cutting, and peeling.
- A 2017 consumer survey seems to corroborate these sentiments as the following issues were noted by respondents as being among the top barriers to consuming more fruit and veggies: 44% said 'members of my family have different fruit and veggie likes and dislikes', 41% said they didn't have a lot of creative ideas when it came to preparing fruits and veggies, and 35% said there is not a good range of fruits and veggies available in restaurants.
- On the flip side, consumers reported that they would eat more fruit (39%) and more veggies (44%) if they had more fast and simple recipes and serving suggestions.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES don't sound as tasty
- Studies have shown that giving vegetable dishes more exciting names entices consumers to eat more of them.
- One such study carried out by Standard University found that study participants were more likely to eat a vegetable dish when it had an exciting name compared to a 'healthy-sounding' name, even when the dish was prepared and served in exactly the same manner with the same visual appeal. An example of an exciting name for a dish was 'Tangy Lime-Seasoned Beets' as opposed to healthier sounding names such as 'Lighter Choice Beets with No Added Sugar' or 'High-Antioxidant Beets'.
- Among 28,000 college students analyzed at a college dining hall Standard University found that "the great-tasting label resulted in diners choosing 25 percent more veggies compared to the basic-labeled version [and] the inviting-sounding veggies were scooped up 35 percent more often than the healthy, positive-sounding ones, and 41 percent more often than the healthy, restrictive ones." Additionally, it was discovered that when the names of the vegetables were exciting, the students added took bigger servings of them per plate versus when they had healthy sounding labels.
- Another good example of the way food labels can increase or decrease the level of fruit and veggie consumption is a case study of Campbell's Soup: The company had once reduced the levels of sodium in their soup and advertised this reduction on their cans, which resulted in a significant decrease in sales. Therefore, Campbell's opted to add the sodium back in.
- A 2017 survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation reported that taste is a key purchase driver when it comes to food for 84%, meanwhile, a smaller percentage (63%) said that they will purchase food based on nutrition.
- A 2017 consumer report found that a lack of creative ideas and recipes for fruits and vegetables is one of the top barriers for increased consumption (41%) and respondents said they were more enticed by other foods instead (35%). Additionally, consumers reported that they would eat more fruit (28%) and more veggies (41%) if they learned some new ways to cook them.
Lack of REGULAR access to fresh produce ('food deserts')
- The CDC has recommended that expanding access and education regarding fruits and vegetables is a key way to increase consumption.
- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many American consumers have limited access to healthy foods because there isn't a supermarket nearby and/or because they lack transportation.
- The USDA says 23.5 million people don't have a supermarket within a mile of their home in the United States, and another national study found that 418 counties in the U.S. are considered 'food deserts' (i.e. places where the total population lives 10 miles or more from a supermarket). This accounts for 20% of all counties in rural areas.
- Access to healthier foods has also been found to be lacking in low-income neighborhoods. For example, studies have found that low-income areas in Detroit, New Haven, Albany, and Baltimore don't have has many healthy food options on their grocery store shelves compared to more affluent areas. For example, in Baltimore, "46 percent of lower-income neighborhoods have limited access to healthy food compared to 13 percent of higher-income neighborhoods."
- At the national level, low-income areas tend to have more 'convenience stores' (30% more) than higher-income areas. These types of stores tend to have less healthy food options than a standard grocery store/supermarket.
- Studies have shown that when consumers have access to more healthy foods and fresh produce they will consume more of them. For example, a multi-state study found that produce consumption increases by 11-32% for every additional supermarket that is added to a local area.
- A produce survey conducted in New Orleans found that consumers ate an extra 0.35 servings of fresh produce each day for every meter of self-space added that was devoted to these types of foods. Additionally, a study conducted in Mississippi found that residents are 23% less likely to meet the recommended requirements of fruit and veggies when living in a food desert, even when factors such as age, sex, race, and education were controlled.
- According to statements published by the CDC, experts have suggested that improving the availability of healthy foods where Americans live and work can lead to an overall change in dietary habits at the population level.
- In 2017 consumer report, the following data was presented in connection to the reasons consumers give for not consuming more fruits and vegetables: 40% said their fruit and veggies go bad before they can eat them. On the flip side, consumers reported that they would eat more fruit (39%) and more veggies (35%) if they knew how to store them (which we assume would be important for people who live in food deserts where they cannot get to the store regularly to restock on fresh produce).
Inability to afford fresh produce
- According to the CDC, limited access to produce that is affordable is a key factor that makes it difficult for Americans to eat a healthy diet.
- As of 2017, 39.7 million Americans were living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Research shows that among adults who live in poverty, only 7% are getting the daily recommended levels of vegetables. Among adults with the highest incomes, this figure jumps to 11.4%.
- According to statements published by the CDC, experts have suggested that improving the affordability of healthy foods where Americans live and work can lead to an overall change in dietary habits at the population level.
- Research studies have shown that individuals in the U.S. who live in low-income areas do not have a large variety of affordable fruits and vegetables accessible to them.
- In 2017 consumer report, the following data was presented in connection to the reasons consumers give for not consuming more fruits and vegetables: 30% said fresh fruits and veggies are too expensive. On the flip side, consumers reported that they would eat more fruit (36%) and more veggies (38%) if they had more cost-saving tips.
In order to identify which factors can be considered 'top' in terms of influencing the availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables in the United States, we analyzed a series of reputable insights from government and non-profit reports, consumer surveys, and academic studies. In doing so, we focused on the factors that were being reported most commonly across these types of resources, the factors that consumers directly reported having the biggest impact on their food selection decisions, and the factors that were affecting significant portions of the U.S. population.