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Why don't we eat more fruits and vegetables?

Initiatives such as the one from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), which has instituted 2021 as the “International Year of Fruits and Vegetables”, are commendable. This is a timely event, since health has never been talked about as much as it is today because of the covid-19 pandemic. A recent report from Euromonitor says that consumers (global research) relate immunity with the regular consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.


The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that the nutrition improvement depends on an increase of the intake of fresh and semi-processed fruits and vegetables. In spite of that, most part of the global population still consumes a lower quantity compared to that suggested by the WHO, of at least 400 grams per day.


In Brazil, the per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables is below the recommended, and the situation became worse: comparing the Consumer Expenditure Survey (POF) from 2008 and 2017, there was a decrease (kilos per habitant) in the Brazilian consumption. Another aspect that reinforces the low consumption is the Vitigel Research, from the Health Ministry, which shows a decrease in the periodicity of the regular intake of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, from 2015 to 2019.


Unhealthy diets, high obesity rates and malnutrition are among the 10 risk factors for diseases all around the globe. Therefore, why is the consumption of vegetables and fruits still low? It is possible to discuss five aspects.


ACCESSIBILITY – A low family budget may lead consumers to allocate a smaller share to buy fresh products, tipping the scale towards basic, cheap and ultra-processed products. In general, based on POF/IBGE data, the Brazilian consumer kept the same amount of the budget to purchase fruits and vegetables from 2008-2009 and 2017-2018. However, the decrease in the per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables in the same period is explained, in general, by the limited purchase power of consumers and by the average increase of prices of these products. A study performed by professor Rodolfo Hoffman, from Esalq/USP, shows that, for the average population, the demand for vegetables and fruits became more susceptible to revenue oscillations in the recent POF (2017-2008).


AVAILABILITY/ACCESS – Seasonality and perishability of products hinder a consistent supply throughout the year. Moreover, the lack of infrastructure in the market chain causes losses of fruit and vegetables in different stages of the chain. In spite of the general decrease in the per capita consumption of these products, the consumption of some products have increased, namely sweet potato, mango, melon and lemon, which can be related to the higher availability over the last years, because of area and productivity growth.


HABITS – The influence of the culture, since the early age, is essential to define food preferences. However, lifestyle changes also affect eating habits that might lead consumers to look for food that is low on nutritional quality, which are cheaper, tastier and more practical. Vigitel performed a profile analysis of raw fruits and vegetables and indicated that regular consumers of these products (five or more days per week) have higher education, are mostly women and live in the Central-Southern Brazil. The study also shows evidences of a positive relation between the consumption of vegetables and a healthier lifestyle.


LACK OF KNOWLEDGE – In general, people are not aware of the importance of fruits and vegetables to health. Therefore, the information spreading about the benefits of consuming these products is very important, mainly considering the aggressive marketing of processed food.


COMMERCIALIZATION CHAIN (DISTRIBUTION) – Unfortunately, the lack of organization and the informality of the chain do not favor the sector to overcome its current challenges: the search for lower costs and losses and good quality. The direct relation between large producers and supermarket chains advances; however, this is not verified for the entire sector, mainly for small producers.


Fruits and vegetables are important to keep healthy habits, to prevent diseases and to strengthen immunity. Moreover, the sector has a significant influence on socioeconomic and environmental development of the planet. Placing fruits and vegetables in evidence is a good opportunity to improve agricultural and trading practices, supporting family farmers and the trading modernization.


Professor Margarete Boteon (Cepea/Esalq) discussed this subject in a seminar organized by CNA (Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock) on August 4, 2021, which can be accessed here.


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