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Open Access Research article

Food Access and Perceptions of the Community and Household Food Environment as Correlates of Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Rural Seniors

Joseph R Sharkey12*, Cassandra M Johnson1 and Wesley R Dean1

Author Affiliations

1 Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, MS 1266, College Station, TX 77843-1266, USA

2 Texas Healthy Aging Research Network (TxHAN) Collaborating Center, Center for Community Health Development, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, MS 1266, College Station, TX 77843-1266, USA

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-32

Published: 2 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Although the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption to health has been well established, few studies have focused on access to fruits and vegetables in rural areas; even fewer examined the relationship between food access and fruit and vegetable consumption among seniors.

Methods

To examine the spatial challenges to good nutrition faced by seniors who reside in rural areas and how spatial access influences fruit and vegetable intake.

A cross-sectional analysis using data from the 2006 Brazos Valley Health Assessment (mailsurvey) for 582 rural seniors (60-90 years), who were recruited by random digit dialing; food store data from the 2006-2007 Brazos Valley Food Environment Project that used ground-truthed methods to identify, geocode, and inventory fruit and vegetables in all food stores.

Results

Few of the BVHA seniors consumed the recommended intakes of fruits or vegetables; women consumed more servings of fruit (1.49 ± 0.05 vs. 1.29 ± 0.07, p = 0.02), similar servings of vegetables (2.18 ± 0.04 vs. 2.09 ± 0.07, p = 0.28), and more combined fruit and vegetables (3.67 ± 0.08 vs. 3.38 ± 0.12, p = 0.04) than men. The median distances to fresh fruit and vegetables were 5.5 miles and 6.4 miles, respectively. When canned and frozen fruit and vegetables were included in the measurement of overall fruit or vegetables, the median distance for a good selection of fruit or vegetables decreased to 3.4 miles for overall fruit and 3.2 miles for overall vegetables. Almost 14% reported that food supplies did not last and there was not enough money to buy more. Our analyses revealed that objective and perceived measures of food store access - increased distance to the nearest supermarket, food store with a good variety of fresh and processed fruit, or food store with a good variety of fresh and processed vegetables - were associated with decreased daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, and combined fruit and vegetables, after controlling for the influence of individual characteristics and perceptions of community and home food resources.

Conclusions

Findings suggest that interventions designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among rural seniors should consider strategies to ameliorate differential access to healthy food due to food store distance.