British Columbia

Food for thought: B.C. researchers see 'significant decline' in our fruit and vegetable consumption

Need a reminder to eat more fruit and vegetables? A study from the University of British Columbia showed a significant drop in the amount of fruit and vegetables Canadian ate over an 11-year period. And that decrease is putting us at risk of diseases later in life, a researcher says.

Poor diet quality a leading contributor to chronic diseases

The UBC study found people are eating far less fruit and vegetables than the recommended 7 to 10 servings in Canada's food guide. (Government of British Columbia)

Need a reminder to eat more fruit and vegetables? A study from the University of British Columbia showed a significant drop in the amount of fruit and vegetables Canadian ate over an 11-year period. And that decrease is putting us at risk of diseases later in life, a researcher says.

"Poor diet quality is the number one contributor to the burden of chronic diseases in Canada," said lead author Claire Tugault-Lafleur, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC's food, nutrition and health program.

The UBC researchers examined dietary data from two nationwide surveys involving more than 50,000 Canadians, aged two and older.

Respondents provided information in 2004 and again in 2015 — about what food and drinks they had consumed in the previous 24 hours.

"What I saw was a significant decline in total fruit and vegetable intake," said Tugault-Lafleur. "I sort of expected a more stable, or higher intake in 2015, compared with 2004," she said.

The research showed that the amount of fruit and vegetables respondents consumed declined 13 per cent between 2004 and 2015. 

Eating large quantities of fruit and vegetables is known to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases take years to develop, said Tugault-Lafleur, who noted the effects of a good diet occurs over a period of time too.

She said even little changes to a person's diet — such as an extra serving of fruit or a vegetable — can affect the rates of chronic diseases.

"It's important to make those changes early," she said.

The UBC study, published in the journal Nutrients reveals gaps between what is recommended in Canada's food guide and the reality of what we are eating.

7 to 10 servings suggested

The study showed that in 2015, Canadians reported consuming an average of 4.6 servings of  fruit and vegetables a day, down from 5.2 in 2004.

Canada's food guide recommends seven to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day depending on your age and sex.

A serving is defined as ½ cup or 125 ml of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or vegetables.

Canada's Food Guides divides a standard dinner plate in three sections: one-half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one-quarter "protein foods." (Health Canada)

Tugault-Lafleur said people are eating less fruits and vegetables, because food insecurity — where access to healthy foods is limited because of financial constraints — is on the rise.

A recent study using Statistics Canada data found one in eight households experiences food insecurity, amounting to more than four million Canadians who live in homes struggling to put food on the table.

"The study speaks to the importance of nutrition surveillance, making sure we monitor changes over time," said  Tugault-Lafleur.

"We need to perhaps have either more policy effort or more dietary interventions that address those barriers."

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