College students aren't eating fruits and vegetables. I know, it's shocking. But its even worse than you might imagine.

Here is the news about a recent study that shows that while our university kids may be having a $4 latte every afternoon, they aren't even eating one serving of fruits and vegetables.

From the release from Oregon State:

The study by Oregon State University researchers surveyed the eating habits of 582 college students, a majority of which were first-year students. The study, now online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, compares male and female students, but found that both were not getting the proper amount of fruits and vegetables. Male students had about five servings a week, slightly higher than female students who self-reported eating about four servings of fruits and vegetables.

Female students had lower fiber intake, while males tended to consume more fat in their diet. Overall, the females had better eating habits, including skipping fewer meals, eating in the college dining halls more frequently, and reading food labels.

“We found that students skipped meals fairly frequently, which could account for some of the lack of fruits and veggies,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors.

“Still, even accounting for fewer meals consumed, the students were on average not always eating even one serving of fruits or vegetables per day, far below the USDA guidelines.”

Both males and females were consuming more than 30 percent of their calories from fat, which exceeds the American Dietetic Association’s recommendation of no more than 30 percent a week.

Cardinal, who is an expert in the psychological and social aspects of health and exercise, said the larger take-away message is that proper eating and nutrition is not integrated enough into our society. He said the surveyed students came from OSU, where healthy options are available in dining halls.

“We are not teaching youth how to be self-sustaining,” Cardinal said. “Home economics and nutrition classes have all but disappeared from our schools in the K-12 system. There is a fundamental lack of understanding on how to eat well in a very broad sense.”

Cardinal said studies show that when people prepare food at home they tend to eat better and consume fewer calories. He said their survey showed that students ate out a lot and consumed at least one fast food meal per week.

“We have a cooking camp for (elementary school) kids here at OSU that teaches kids how to shop for their food, prepare it and then clean up after themselves,” he said. “These are essential skills every child should know, and it will stay with them long after they leave school.”

Cardinal pointed to recent concerning trends, such as in Texas where health education is no longer required by the state. In addition, many school districts, including ones in Oregon, have cut home economics/nutrition classes due to budget constraints.

“Health is an area being neglected, yet all the available research show that healthy habits and healthy kids can lead to better academic success,” Cardinal said. “We are doing a disservice to our kids by not teaching them these essential life skills.”

 

The dearth of nutrition education may indeed play a pivotal role in why college-aged kids aren't eating fruits and vegetables, and that issue cannot be changed over the near term.  And if our best and brightest young minds aren't eating healthy, it doesn't give me confidence that their non-college attending peers are doing any better.

So what can be done to help target this group with a "more matters" message? I posed that question to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group and found quite a few thoughtful  responses. Here are some so far:

Dan wrote:

A Social Media campaign targeted to college age students would be a great start, but I think there are additional components that would be required.I spent last weekend at our daughter's school and took a look in the refrigerator to see what she had stocked up on...no produce in sight.The ONLY place that is quick and handy that sells fruit on campus is the Student Union. So I wandered over to see what was for sale there and it was absolutely pathetic. The choices were either green or over ripe bananas, red delicious apples that sounded and felt like cotton balls, or oranges that were all shriveled up. There was nothing there that any consumer should consider buying.I believe that many university cafeterias are operated by third party or food service companies and have been given a specific cost per serving that they must adhere to. Obviously cheap/poor quality fruit will not attract student purchases so there is little incentive to make any fresh fruit available. No demand=no additional selections.Any ideas on how to make fresh fruit available at various locations on campus?

 

CJ said this:

The milk and beef campaigns were the stars of demand building advertising because they had large, concentrated budgets and staff, which have declined over time. Realistically, produce growers need a more direct approach and there is a great opportunity. Students need convenience -- and a number of campus have invited Farmer's Markets to set up shop. This also reaches time-crunched faculty and staff -- so that market is actually the size of a small city. University of South Florida in Tampa created one and this area is not exactly affluent. Many student organizations are advocating for better quality produce in their cafeterias -- they also support local, fair trade and organic and recycling. So savvy food service providers should capitalize on those opportunities for upselling by offering product and educational messages.

 

Why can't a college town coffee shop also feature premium fruit like the honeycrisp apple instead of a bland red delicious?

Can Produce for Better Health folks target one college campus as a "test case" on the value of promotional efforts?

Perhaps a produce marketing company can offer a social media promotion that is geared toward college students - collect so many purchases for a spring break vacation, co-promote with Natty Light,  etc.

Surely there is something the industry do to get our students off fruit and vegetable probation.