Older adults represent a growing portion of the population of the United States. By 2004, life expectancy had increased to 77.8 years of age (Arias, 2007), and by 2010, older adults (65 years or older) are expected to increase to 40 million in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). The generation entering older adulthood is one that welcomed fast food and meal replacement foods allowing them to adapt to a more sedentary lifestyle and to need preventative health programs (Chappa et al., 2004).
In Mar. 2007, the national “5-A-Day” fruit and vegetable program led by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) became the National Fruit and Vegetable Program (CDC, 2007b). This program launched a new public health initiative, Fruit & Veggies—More Matters, to reflect new dietary guidelines, which recommended increasing the quantity of fruit and vegetables consumed per day (CDC, 2007b). Specifically, the new recommendations included 2 to 6–1/2 cups (473 to 1538 mL) of fruit and vegetables, or the equivalent of four to 13 servings per day (CDC, 2007b).
As a result of decreased physical activity, dietary changes, and alterations in metabolic rate, older adults are susceptible to an increased rate of diseases (Arterburn et al., 2004). In fact, according to the CDC (2007a), “chronic diseases disproportionately affect older adults and are associated with disability, diminished quality of life, and increased costs for health care and long-term care” and account for almost one-third of healthcare expenditures. Because older adults represent a growing part of the population of the United States, it becomes increasingly important to focus research on the factors influencing their health.
Poor nutrition is one of several factors responsible for mortality and morbidity in the elderly (Schlettwein-Gsell, 1992) and is comparable to deaths caused from cigarette smoking (Nestle, 2007). In a study based on the “5-A-Day” program, over half of the U.S. older adult population did not report adequate consumption of these foods (Sahyoun et al., 2005). Another study of adults older than age 60 years reported that 72.5% of participants did not meet the recommended minimum guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption (Prochaska et al., 2005). Information collected by the American Public Health Association (no date) states that “Access to healthy food plays a major role in the ability of individuals to follow a healthful diet.” “Unfortunately, income, or lack of it, can decrease the ability to access healthy food and increase access to fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and liquor stores where there is poor selection and quality of fresh foods.” Research in chronic diseases has consistently shown health benefits from diets rich in fruit and vegetables (Nestle, 2007).
The combination of moderate physical activity and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables has been reported to dramatically reduce an adult's risk for many chronic diseases (Blanchard et al., 2004; CDC, 2007a; Jane Higdon Linus Pauling Institute, 2005). These effects included lower blood pressure and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus (Jane Higdon Linus Pauling Institute, 2005) and a decrease in coronary heart disease and stroke (Ness and Powles, 1997). It is important to continue to emphasize the necessity of fruit and vegetable consumption as a practical and important means for optimizing nutrition to reduce disease risk and maximize good health (Van Duyn and Pivonka, 2000).
Studies have shown that gardening is a favorite leisure time physical activity among older adults (Bertera, 2003; Yusuf et al., 1996). Adults participate in gardening for many reasons, including physical health and exercise, mental health, recreation, creativity, intellectual expansion, friendship, produce quality and nutrition, spiritual reasons (including contact with nature), self-expression/self-fulfillment, and cost and convenience (Ashton-Shaeffer and Constant, 2005; Blair et al., 1991). Gardening has been shown to influence dietary habits in programs as short as 3 months, including increasing fruit and vegetable consumption (Blair et al., 1991; Koch et al., 2006; Mummery et al., 2007; Sahyoun et al., 2005). Studies examining fruit and vegetable consumption of older adults report that factors such as ownership of a garden at some point, experiences with foods eaten from a garden (past or present), early exposure to the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables, the availability of fresh produce, and eating with others can enhance fruit and vegetable consumption of this population (Devine et al., 1999).
The primary focuses of this study were to examine and compare fruit and vegetable consumption in gardeners and nongardeners and to investigate any differences in fruit and vegetable consumption in long-term gardeners when compared with newer gardeners in a study evaluating the effect of gardening on older adults (Sommerfeld et al., 2010).
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