Changes in knowledge, beliefs and behaviors related to fruit and vegetable consumption among Western Australian adults, 1995 to 2004

Dietary recommendations

Throughout the world, governments use dietary guidelines to develop policies and programs to improve dietary intakes. The Dietary Guidelines for Australians provide advice to the general population about healthy food choices1. They address issues such as balance and variety in the diet, eating enough fruit, vegetables and cereal foods, limiting fat, salt, and sugar intakes, and infant feeding. The guidelines represent the best consensus of scientific knowledge and public health advice currently available. They are currently being updated to keep abreast of changes in disease patterns and new scientific knowledge. Community concerns about food and nutrition usually extend far beyond the health issues addressed by the Dietary Guidelines.

Measuring community attitudes and behaviors

There is an urgent need to promote dietary behaviors consistent with dietary guidelines to assist consumers by making “healthy food choices the easy choices”. Understanding consumer attitudes, beliefs and perceptions related to dietary guidelines helps governments to develop effective strategies to Promote change. Monitoring attitudes and beliefs as well as self-reported dietary behaviors provides useful insights. The Health Department in Western Australia conducted Nutrition Monitoring Surveys in 1995, 1998, 2001 and 2004. The telephone surveys measured changes in knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs in relation to the Dietary Guidelines and identified dietary concerns, barriers to, and promoters of healthy eating behavior. The survey sample was 2854 adults aged 18 to 64 years residing in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia2.

Go for 2&5®

The Australian National Nutrition Survey found that Australian adults were eating about half the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables (F&V) every day. At the time, evidence of the considerable health benefits of eating diets high in F&V was emerging. The Government considered increasing fruit and vegetable intake a priority that would result in longer-term health care system savings. There was very little advertising and promotion of F&V compared to less nutritious competing foods at that time. In 2002, the Health Department in Western Australia developed the Go for 2&5® social marketing campaign to promote F&V. (Visit www.gofor2and5.com.au for more information about the campaign). Results of the Nutrition Monitoring Surveys helped to develop the campaign and assisted in evaluating its impact overtime.

Changes in knowledge of recommended servings

Adults were three and a half times more likely to know that they should be eating two servings of fruit each day in 2004 than they were in 1995. They were four times more likely to know that they should eat the recommended five servings of vegetables every day. Women were usually more likely than men to know the recommendations.

The main barriers to increasing F&V intake were similar, but more people reported barriers to increasing vegetable intake. “Because I already eat enough” was the main reason people did not eat more fruit or vegetables. Over time people were less likely to think they were eating enough fruit or vegetables. A lack of variety, poor quality, a lack of time, and the effort required to prepare F&V were barriers to increasing intake.

Time scarcity is an issue

Adults were much more likely to say that “lack of time” was a barrier to eating a healthy diet in 2004 than in 1995. Strategies to support quick easy meals and snacks featuring F&V are required to meet this demand for convenience. Industry has responded to the consumer focus on convenience by developing value-added fruit and vegetables (chopped onion, peeled and chopped pumpkin, salad mixes etc.).

So what next?

Although most people thought that F&V were good for them, there was a common misconception that they already ate enough. This was the key reason they did not think they needed to eat more. People were more likely to report barriers to increasing vegetable intake. Practical barriers, like availability, cost and quality, were reported once people realised that they should eat more. There were differences between the barriers to eating fruit and those for vegetables. Consumers thought vegetables were difficult and time-consuming to prepare. Education about the ideal number of servings of F&V and assisting consumers to discover practical solutions to addressing the barriers to increasing vegetable consumption in particular, is a priority.

  1. Dietary Guidelines for all Australians http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/PUBLICATIONS/synopses/dietsyn.htm
  2. Pollard C, Miller M, Woodman R, Meng R, Binns C: Changes in Knowledge, Beliefs, and Behaviors Related to Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Western Australian Adults, 1995 to 2004. American Journal of Public Health 2009, 99(2):355-361
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