Overcoming the socioeconomic and gender gap in fruit and vegetable intake
Why is it so difficult for most people to reach the daily recommendation for fruit and vegetables? In Sweden, less than 20 percent of the adult population reaches the intake goal of 500 grams per day, and less than 10 percent of children reach their goal of 400 grams. A universal pattern can be observed across northern Europe: Intake is lower in men compared to women, in people on low incomes and in those with lower education compared to higher socioeconomic groups. Is it a matter of low availability? Is the perceived high cost of fruits and vegetables preventing desired change? Are other, less healthy foods and beverages too readily available and too cheap? Or is it a matter of lack of knowledge, skills or widespread taste preferences for sugary, fatty and salty alternatives?
The answer to these questions should guide us in the search of effective measures to increase consumption in all groups in the population.
Among higher socioeconomic groups, targeted promotional activities and health counselling is probably an adequate strategy to reduce the gender gap in consumption. However, in order to overcome the socioeconomic gap, additional instruments are needed. Social marketing employing traditional marketing elements – product, price, place and promotion – could be a way forward. One proven approach to increasing consumption is establishment of free or subsidised fruit and vegetable schemes in schools and work places. However, this might not be enough to prevent obesity and chronic diseases. Governments, municipalities and employers need to consider whether free or subsidised fruit and vegetable schemes should be made conditional upon removal of unhealthy snacks from school canteens, vending machines and cafeterias, i.e. heightening barriers for unhealthy foods and beverages competing with fruit and vegetables. In this way, environments truly supportive to health could be promoted.