The birthplace of the 5 a Day program is also the location for a renaissance in fruit and vegetable consumption, a new study finds.

Californians increased fruit and vegetable consumption 37% from 1997 to 2007, according to a recent article in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, which credited higher consuming ethnic populations and more than a decade of nutrition education and targeted nutrition assistance.

The average adult in California consumed more than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day in 2007, up from a low of 3.75 servings recorded in 1997. One third of Californians consumed five fruits and vegetables a day in 1997. That percentage increased to 50% by 2007.

“We are really, really pleased at the very strong results that have been shown in the last ten years,” said Susan Foerster, director of development of the Network for a Healthy California. “They exceed expectations.”

However, that state-level data, asking consumers to recall what they ate in the past 24 hours, appears to be much higher than data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, the CDC estimated that 25.6% of adult Californians consumed three or more vegetables per day, compared to the national average of 27.4%. For fruit, the CDC reported 40.6% of Californians ate two or more servings, compared to the U.S. average of 32.9%.

The California study is based on a biennial telephone survey of 1,400 Californians who self-reported their consumption for the previous 24 hour period. No other state has a similar survey, Foerster said.

“We know of no other states that have made similar gains,” she said.

Foerster said national consumption trends have been flat in the last decade.

The survey showed consumption gains in California beginning in 2003 and continuing with each survey through 2007. The last survey, taken in 2009, showed the state maintained its gains, despite the onset of the recession. The 2011 survey results won’t be known for another year.

Starting in 1998, the Network for a Healthy California has used U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds on a matching basis to conduct programs to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in low income families, she said.

Programs supported include mass communications campaign, including paid advertising beginning in 2003.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Public Health paid for the study.


The results of the study weren’t too surprising, considering the targeted nutrition education work in California, said Roberta Cook, economist at the University of California-Davis.

Other industry data shows higher expenditures of fruits and vegetables in the Western U.S. than other regions, she said.

In 2008, data shows that expenditures in Western U.S. household — weighted heavily by California — were $743 per household per year for fruits and vegetables. That compares with a national average of $628 per household per year, Cook said.

Reasons for optimism

Despite a tough economy, Foerster said there is room for continued optimism in California, thanks to programs available in other states:

  • Fruit and vegetable vouchers for the Women, Infants and Children program, aimed at low-income residents;
  • Improvement in school nutrition programs in schools beginning in 2012-13; and
  • The half a plate nutrition message from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Regional marketing of fruits and vegetables is also appealing to many consumers, Foerster said.