Well-Being

In U.S., Uptick in Healthy Eating, Access to Affordable Produce

by Dan Witters

But fewer report eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables four days per week

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As many Americans set an eye on healthier eating in 2010, Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data reveal mixed results on two key metrics in 2009 compared with 2008. While the percentage of Americans saying they ate healthy all day yesterday improved slightly in 2009 (to 66.4% from 65.9% in 2008), the percentage reporting eating five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables on at least four days in the previous week slipped to 55.6% last year from 56.4% in 2008.

Gallup and Healthways ask at least 1,000 Americans each day about their eating habits. Specifically, respondents are asked to report on whether they ate healthy all day yesterday and in the last seven days how many days did they "have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables." Monthly aggregates typically consist of 28,000 to 30,000 interviews.

The second half of 2009 saw a significant improvement from 2008 in the percentage of Americans who reported eating healthy all day yesterday, ultimately resulting in a small but measurable net improvement for the metric in 2009. The reverse was true in 2008, when Americans reported healthier eating in the first half of the year before that number dropped off substantially in the fall and winter.

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While more than 6 in 10 Americans consistently reported eating healthy all day yesterday in 2009 and 2008, they did not fare as well when asked to reveal the number of days in the previous week that they had at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. Generally, fewer than 6 in 10 said they did so on four more days, and in this case, Americans generally did worse in 2009 than in 2008, only achieving year-over-year improvement in the last two months of the year.

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The affect of the global recession, rapidly escalating unemployment, and a weak labor market on the consumption of fruits and vegetables is unclear, but could be a substantive underlying factor in the clearly suppressed levels of fruit and vegetable consumption recorded in the first several months of 2009.

Healthy Eating Greatest in the West and Among Seniors, Hispanics

In 2009, Americans living in the West were more likely than those in any other region to report healthy eating. While healthy eating in 2009 was lowest among Midwesterners, this region saw the most improvement of all four geographic areas compared with 2008. The East -- which was tied at the top with the West in 2008 -- declined slightly in 2009, making it the only region in the country where self-reported healthy eating worsened.

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For a second year, seniors (aged 65 and older) and Hispanics outperformed their other demographic counterparts in their reports of eating healthy. Young adults (18- to 29-year-olds) and blacks are again the least healthy eaters according to their respective self-reports. There was essentially no change in healthy eating habits between the two years for the gender, marital status, income, or education demographics.

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Ease of Accessing Affordable Produce Up in 2009: Key to Healthy Eating

The good news for Americans seeking to improve their healthy eating habits is that the perceived affordability of fruits and vegetables is on the rise. In 11 out of 12 months of 2009, Americans were more likely than in 2008 to say that it is easy to get affordable fruits and vegetables in the city or area where they live. For the year, an average of 91.9% said this was the case compared with 89.7% in 2008.

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The Gallup-Healthways data also underscore the extent to which the ease of access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is a key component in healthy eating outcomes. Americans who say they have easy access to affordable fruits and vegetables are more likely to report having eaten healthy the day before than those who say they do not have easy access (67.4% versus 55.5%). Those with easy access to affordable produce are also more likely to say that they have consumed at least five servings of fruits and vegetables at least four days per week (56.5% versus 51.2).

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Bottom Line

While the first half of 2009 bode ill for a strong year of healthy eating among American adults, the latter half of the year revealed improvement in healthy eating habits. Still, 2009 resulted in a net decline in routine consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Underlying these trends, however, is the marked elevation of access to affordable produce, which serves as an important vanguard to healthy eating habits and has likely played a key role in the improvements seen in the latter part of the year.

Given these results, the policy implications for leaders who care about wellness may be significant, as it appears that a substantial means of having an impact on people's healthy eating habits is likely within our society's grasp through enhanced portals of disseminating affordable, accessible produce to the American public.

Learn more about the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

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Survey Methods

For the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide each day. All monthly samples are near 30,000 per month. For monthly results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.6 percentage point.

More than 350,000 surveys were completed in each calendar year, yielding percentages with maximum expected error range of ±0.2 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index™

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures the daily pulse of U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

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