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Calif. Eating Less Fruits, Veggies

JENNIFER KERRSeptember 16, 1998

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Eat your fruits and veggies! It’s a scolding Californians aren’t used to, but a new state survey finds that consumption of both has dropped, particularly among minority groups and the poor.

Residents of the nation’s top farm state _ know for its melons, lettuces and the California Raisins _ are eating less healthy produce, according to the survey released Tuesday.

Fruit and vegetable consumption dropped from 4.1 servings a day in 1995 to 3.8 last year, the survey said. Health experts recommend that adults eat at least five such servings every day.

The main culprit is fast-food restaurants, where sometimes the only thing resembling a vegetable might be a french fry, experts said.

``People are eating out more. They have less time. Their commutes are longer,″ said James Stratton, a state health officer.

``You know how it is,″ agreed Dietlind Wiesner, 40, an engineer who had just bought bags of cucumbers, nectarines and tomatoes at a farmer’s market. ``If you’re in a hurry, you’re going to get a quick snack. And after a 10-hour day, you come home and you want the easy way out.″

The state Department of Health Services has been conducting food surveys every two years since 1989, when the rate was 3.8 servings a day. In the latest survey last year, 1,700 randomly selected adults were interviewed about their fruit and vegetable consumption habits.

The figures were particularly bad for blacks and Hispanics.

For blacks, daily fruit and veggie servings totaled 3.1, up only slightly from 3.0 in 1995. For Hispanics, the figure dropped from 4.7 servings to 3.9 servings.

The rates were also lower for low-income people. Those with incomes under $15,000 ate only 3.1 servings. For minorities and the poor, Stratton said, there’s a perception that fresh fruit and vegetables cost too much.

``It’s ironic to think that access and affordability would be a problem in a state that grows half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables,″ he said.

The state has started public service TV ads aimed at blacks and Hispanics showing that seasonable fruits and vegetables can be part of dinner even with a small budget.

Stratton said health officials are also working with grocery stores to promote the sale of fresh produce, using kiosks with touch-screen computers that can print out easy recipes using fruits and vegetables.

``There is a billion-dollar opportunity for anyone who figures out how to present fresh fruit and vegetables in a way people will beat down their doors like they do for burgers and fries,″ he said.

Kim Lontz, 35, was quick to admit that she’s not a healthy eater as she ordered chili dogs and hamburgers for herself and her two children at a shopping mall in Sacramento.

``My kids are,″ she said. ``I’m a fast-food nut.″

Julie Steidlemayer, 56, a farmer from Colusa, 40 miles northwest of Sacramento, was surprised to hear Californians were eating less healthy produce. She was, nonetheless, ordering a hamburger in a downtown Sacramento restaurant.

``Of course. We raise beef,″ she said, but added she would top her burger with lettuce, tomatoes and onions.

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