RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – Nutrition education can increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables among low-income seniors, according to a study conducted by RTI International, Altarum Institute and Michigan State University Extension.
Previous research found that people with lower economic status consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables than their counterparts.
However, the study's findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, showed that participants in the Eat Smart, Live Strong intervention consumed a net of a half a cup more of fruit and vegetables per day than the comparison group, suggesting the program may have increased participants' consumption of fruit and vegetables by about a half cup per day. The intervention was developed by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is targeted to older adults who receive or are eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
"With a rising number of older Americans comes an increasing need to address behaviors that can improve health, reduce the burden of chronic disease, and contribute to long-term quality of life," said James Hersey, Ph.D., principal scientist at RTI and an author of the study. "These findings show nutrition education programs can make a difference with older Americans."
The study, funded by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, looked at self-reports of the consumption of fruits and vegetables among 614 low-income SNAP participants and those eligible for SNAP, aged 60 to 80 years old in Michigan, before and after implementation of the intervention.
The curriculum provides information on steps that participants can take to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables. One of these steps, which researchers found to be most successful among participants, is the suggestion to add fruit and vegetables as ingredients during meal preparation. This behavior change may have contributed to participants' increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.
"Although the lessons and other take-home materials included information on how to plan and shop for meals made with fruit and vegetables on a limited budget, focus group discussions with program participants suggested that more could be done to address participant concerns about the cost of purchasing fruits and vegetables," said Sheryl Cates, senior research policy analyst at RTI.