Children in South Africa are consuming inadequate amounts of fruit and vegetables. This is according to new findings, which describe for the first time fruit and vegetable consumption patterns at the national level.
The hype about fruit and vegetable consumption persists as both international and national reports continue to highlight the importance of including adequate amounts of these plant foods in our daily diets.
During the past few decades, a large number of studies have investigated the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake, disease prevention and health promotion, and scientific evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with health benefits continues to expand.
Despite the emerging consistent evidence that supports and emphasises the beneficial effects of fruit and vegetable consumption in human health, fruit and vegetable consumption is reported to be inadequate in both the developed and developing world.
Fruit, vegetable intake in children
The new study, a secondary analysis of the National Food Consumption Survey in 1999, reported that fruit and vegetable intake per capita in children between the ages of 12 and 108 months, were considerably lower than recommended levels.
Both the consumption and the frequency of intake of fruit and vegetables by children in South Africa was poor, with intakes well below WHO guidelines nationally and provincially, and across the age range. Fruit is not eaten every day by all children whereas vegetables are eaten approximately once daily on average.
Children in households with a greater income and children whose mothers had a higher level of formal education had better, but still inadequate intakes.
Undernourished children with poor growth patterns consumed less fruit and vegetables both in quantity and frequency. Overweight children had a higher mean fruit and vegetable intake than children with normal weights, but the intake by overweight children was still lower than recommended levels.
In view of the inadequate and low frequency of fruit and vegetable intake described in this study and the importance of adequate fruit and vegetable consumption in children in relation to disease prevention and micronutrient security, it would be necessary to consider interventions in both the micro- and the macro-environments in which the population lives.
With this in mind and the available literature regarding school fruit and vegetable programmes, the implementation of a school fruit and/or vegetable programme by the South African government needs to be duly and seriously considered.
The role of effective nutrition education in improving fruit and vegetable intake, within the given financial constraints, should not be underestimated and should be further developed within the national, provincial and local health structures in the country.
Good household practices in relation to food procurement and household resource allocation could make the best use of existing resources to promote better health and nutrition in young children. – (NICUS, June 2007)
The information for this article was supplied by the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch (NICUS).
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