Behavior intervention can help boost fruit, veggie consumption

Findings from a new systematic reviewof scientific research published between 2005-2010 shows that statistically significant increases in fruit and vegetable intake are demonstrated when behavior-based interventions are employed. 

Interventions resulted in an average increase in fruit and vegetable intake of 1.13 servings per day for adults; 0.39 servings per day for children; 0.97 servings per day for minority adults or low-income participants; and 0.80 servings per day for worksite interventions.

Behavior-based interventions are defined as those that employ an accepted behavioral theory. Cynthia Thomson, co-author of the review and associate professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona found, “a person’s confidence in how they can cope with their barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as understanding where a person is in their change process (thinking about it vs. doing it) were important factors for individual uptake of the 'more fruit and vegetables' message. 

For group interventions, understanding the relationships between individuals and their community (e.g., work site or church) was associated with positive change in fruit and vegetable consumption behavior.”

The published paper evolved from a review funded by Produce for Better Health Foundation earlier this year. The PBH review included an additional 29 studies from earlier years (1995-2004) and was the first review primarily focused on otherwise healthy Americans. 

Other earlier reviews had included participants with pre-existing health conditions (diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc.) and authors noted that changing dietary behavior was more successful in populations with these pre-existing health conditions.

“The review reinforces the fact that consumption of fruits and vegetables goes up with just about any type of intervention," said Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of PBH. 

“The most successful interventions, however, continue to be those that address specific needs of the target population. For adults, this means identifying consumption obstacles (e.g., how to prepare vegetables, differing family preferences, and perceived costs) and then conducting interventions that address these concerns (e.g., demonstrating preparation techniques, addressing cost concerns.) 

For children, interventions need to consider social norms (e.g., peer pressure) or availability (e.g., at home or at school), with interventions conducted accordingly (e.g., more fruits/vegetables in schools and at home, role modeling, rewards.)”

Pivonka says her biggest takeaway from the review is the importance of understanding the needs of the target audience and determining the best way to address their needs.

“The Fruits & Veggies — More Matters" program was developed to increase fruit and vegetable intake across the population, with a particular focus on moms.

PBH has continued to identify the specific needs and concerns of moms with young children to provide the support they need to help increase their family’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. 

"I believe the continued positive performance of our consumer-oriented website and social media efforts attests to our success on this front," Pivonka says. "Further, we employ the same principles as we develop nutrition education resources for educators and practitioners to use when working with various audiences.”

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