(Oct. 22) Americans are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. And they’re slimming down a bit. Hmmm.

Those two findings (surely related, any produce marketer worth his salt would tell you) highlight a new survey by the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.

Americans ate fresh fruit 6% more often and vegetables 5% more often this year than they did in 2002, according to the company’s 18th Annual Eating Patterns in America study. And 55% of Americans are overweight this year, down from 56% last year.

Harry Balzer, an NPD vice president and the study’s author, said this is the first time he has seen the number of overweight Americans decline. To him, it’s telling that produce consumption is up.

“People ate more fruits and vegetables and snacked less in the evening,” Balzer said. “It looks like we’re focusing on health again. People are interested in a balanced diet.”

Apparently the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2001 report about Americans’ problems with overweight and obesity is finally having an effect. Of the 18 years NPD has conducted this study, this year’s contained the biggest trend reversals, Balzer said.

Americans have shifted their focus from losing a certain number of pounds to eating better for their health, he added. About 35% carefully plan their meals to be nutritious, up from 32% in 2002. And more Americans are working out: 66% exercise strenuously at least once a week, up from 63% in 2002.