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New Yorkers aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, report says

Access to fresh produce and time to cook stand as the primary obstacles.

New Yorkers should eat more fruits and vegetables,

New Yorkers should eat more fruits and vegetables, according to the American Fitness Index. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

New Yorkers could be bigger on apples — and other fruits and vegetables.

This year’s American Fitness Index report, which is slated for release Tuesday, finds that while New York City ranked 52 out of 100 American cities when it comes to overall health, it is weak in key dietary areas.

Some 18.4 percent of New Yorkers eat three or more vegetables a day and 31.9 percent eat two or more fruits a day, according to the report, which uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health.

In San Francisco, 27.5 percent of residents get their recommended vegetables and in Buffalo, 38.9 percent have their recommended fruit servings.

Dr. Lisa Young, a New York City nutritionist and professor, said New York’s low numbers are troubling as consuming produce fights obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

“If they’re not eating their fruits and vegetables, what are they eating? They’re getting it from somewhere else and it’s not healthy,” she said.

New Yorkers said access to greens and fruits, and time out of their hectic schedules to prepare and cook with them, stood as the biggest roadblocks to eating healthier.

“I usually eat out and try to get food with some veggies in it, but I don’t have a lot of fruits and vegetables at home,” said Thomas Crowley, 26, of Bushwick.

A 2010 study from Columbia University is one of several that have found low-income neighborhoods like Central Harlem lack major supermarkets, and the delis that are the sole source of groceries for those areas don’t sell fresh fruit and vegetables.

Mara Driscoll, 28, a ballet dancer from the Upper East Side, said she typically gets about five or six servings of fruits and vegetables a week, but acknowledged that she tends to purchase less produce because she doesn’t have enough time to cook. She added that it was harder for her to get fruits and vegetables when she lived in Washington Heights.

“There weren’t any good grocery stores, just delis near me,” she said.

Barb Ainsworth, the chair of the American Fitness Index, said the study, which has been released annually since 2008, does not track grocery stores or produce shops, but examines the city’s farmers’ markets.

New York’s low rate of farmers’ markets per million people, 18.3, was a strong indication of the barriers to a healthy diet, she said.

As a point of comparison, Washington, D.C., topped the list with 85.1 farmers’ markets per million residents.

“New York City can increase the number of farmers’ markets to get closer to the leaders in the index and promote healthy diets,” Ainsworth said.

Kim Kessler, the assistant commissioner for the city Department of Health’s Bureau for Chronic Disease Prevention, said the city has undertaken several efforts to make it easier for New Yorkers to purchase fruits and vegetables.

In 2005, it launched the Health Bucks program to SNAP recipients and community groups, which provides coupons for produce bought at green markets.

Over $5 million in Health Bucks discounts have been used over the last 13 years.

The health department also started the Shop Healthy initiative in 2005 that works with grocery stores, food distributors and community groups in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. The initiative pushes for the sale of more fruits and vegetables in underserved stores, as well as advertising that promotes healthy eating, Kessler said.

“People have unhealthy food that is being marketed to them. It’s ubiquitous. To counter that, we have these approaches,” she said.

The assistant commissioner said changing habits and opening up new opportunities for purchasing healthy food will take time, but these programs have been a long-standing step in the right direction.

Young said New Yorkers can easily make small changes to their everyday lives to get more fruits and veggies in their diet. She noted that small veggie and fruit snacks, even frozen ones, are perfect on-the-go meal options.

“They need more options,” she said of New Yorkers. “I think we need to compel people with quick and easy ways to eat their fruit and vegetable requirements.”

The American Fitness Index report shows that New Yorkers have many other healthy practices. The city has the highest walk score among the 100 metropolitan areas, meaning that there are more safe and convenient places for people to walk and residents make the most of them daily.

Plus, 72 percent of residents have exercised in the last 30 days.

“People walk to get mass transit, they walk to get food and work and leisure. This is a wonderful way to increase physical activity,” Ainsworth said.

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