Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Preschool Children: An Income Paradox?

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Background: Diets focusing on high fruit and vegetable consumption (FVC) reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Low incomefamilies have lower FVC, yet a handful of international studies demonstrate rural living as a protective factor over income.

Purpose: Assess predictors of FVC consumption among preschool children in a rural and low income county of the United States.

Methods: Parents (N=178) were surveyed about the home food environment. School lunchtime FVC of preschool children (n=196) was assessed using digital imagery of individual plate waste. USDA portion equivalents were calculated. Income comparisons were made using the independent samples t-test with α ≤ .05 and multivariate regression was used to determine predictors of child FVC at school. An income threshold was set at $20,000 as this was the sample median and the mid-point poverty line for a family of 3 and 4.

Results: An average of 52.02% of fruits and vegetables (not including potatoes) were consumed equating to ¼ of a USDA child serving. Childrenof < $20,000 households consumed significantly more fruits vegetables at school t(162) = 3.23, p r =.25 than children of >$20,000 household. Predictors of FVC at school for children in F(1, 88) = 9.98, p F(1, 86) = 5.01, p < .05, R2 = .05. Only child preference was a predictor for children in >$20,000 households F(1, 46)= 7.22, p < .05, R2 = .14.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that in a rural setting, the common conception that lower income children consume less fruits and vegetables can be challenged. In addition, home availability of fruits and vegetables typically predicts FVC, but in this study did so only for childrenin$20,000 household children at greatest risk. Obesity interventions must assess the entire food environment (i.e., home and school) with rural-urban and income comparisons and consideration for other factors (e.g., preference, culture) to fully understand the context of FVC.


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