People Consume Fruits, Vegetables More Often When They Have Easy Access To Them
September 4, 2013

People Consume Fruits, Vegetables More Often When They Have Easy Access To Them

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Access to adequate fruits and vegetables is problematic in low-income communities because of limited access to supermarkets and farmers' markets. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs may be a feasible approach for providing fresh fruits and vegetables to under-resourced communities, according to a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

CSAs link consumers to a local farm’s produce over a growing season. According to Sara A. Quandt, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest Baptist, CSAs have been proposed as a solution for disparities in fruit and vegetable consumption, though evaluation of such efforts has been limited. The diet of a typical US citizen fails to meet daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.

Farm Fresh Healthy Living of Forsyth County, NC was a CSA program developed, administered and evaluated by a team of university researchers partnered with Experiment in Self Reliance Inc., a community nonprofit agency, and Harmony Ridge Farms, a Forsyth County, NC farm using organic practices. The study findings were published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

"Expanding access to healthful foods is an important step in reducing health disparities," said Quandt. "The objective of this study was to test the feasibility of a CSA program for low-income families in Forsyth County."

The research team recruited 50 low income women with children to create a small randomized, controlled feasibility study. The women were then divided into an intervention group and a control group of equal sizes. Most of the participants were African-American, unmarried, and they ranged in age between 24 and 60 years.

Participants in the intervention group received a free box of fresh produce for 16 weeks from May through August 2012. This group was also offered five educational sessions that included cooking classes, a farm tour and a grocery store tour. A dietician accompanied the group on the grocery store tour, focusing on healthful eating on a budget. In contrast, the control group did not receive the produce boxes or the educational lessons.

A significant increase in the number of different fruits and vegetables was observed in the households of the intervention group over the summer compared to the households of the control group. A greater increase in fruit and vegetable consumption was also reported in the intervention group.

"Although the increases in fruit and vegetable consumption in the intervention group did not reach statistical significance, they did show a trend in the right direction," said Quandt. "In a larger group, we would expect that the CSA program would make a noticeable impact on quality of the families' diets."

Participants in the intervention group reported a willingness to pay at least a portion of the CSA cost in the future. When the overall Farm Fresh Healthy Living program was evaluated, the participants reported positively on the variety of the produce provided, the better flavor of the local produce compared with grocery store produce, the chance to expose children to new foods, as well as the chance to eat foods that were too expensive to purchase at the grocery store. Problems with work schedules and transportation to pick up their produce boxes each week were reported by some participants.

"This study shows that food from a CSA program has positive effects on recipient households," said Quandt. "CSA is a feasible approach and more study is needed. Altering some of the financial and operational aspects of traditional CSA programs will be necessary to improve the participation impact."