(Nov. 8) The graying of America could be silver in the pockets of fruit marketers.

A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that older individuals eat less of most food groups than do young people. However, fruit is the exception to the rule, the study showed.

The report was published in the summer/fall edition of the USDA’s Food Review, titled “The Graying of America.”

The publication pointed out that the number of people 65 and older is expected to grow from 35 million in 2000 to 53.7 million in 2020 and then to 82 million by 2050. Those 65 and older will account for 20% of the population in 2050, up from 12% in 2000.

While a 1991 telephone survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute indicated only 23% of Americans ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, more recent statistics show some higher numbers.

DOUBLE

The study said more than twice as many older men meet the Food Guide Pyramid recommendation for fruit consumption than younger men — 29% compared with 14%, respectively. About 32% of older women consume at least two servings of fruit daily, compared with 19% of younger women who eat the suggested servings.

Among men 60 and older, the average consumption of fruit was two servings, compared with 1.4 servings for those 19-59 years old. Among women 60 and older, consumption of fruit averaged 1.8 servings.

However, both men and women 60 and older ate fewer vegetable servings than their counterparts from 19-59 years old.

Among men 60 and older, the average consumption of vegetables was 3.7 servings a day, compared with 4.3 servings a day for those 19-59 years old. About 42% of men 60 and older consumed the recommended servings of vegetables each day, compared with 46% of those 19-59. Those numbers are somewhat misleading, since frozen potatoes and potato chips account for 17% of all U.S. vegetable servings.

WOMEN

Among women older than 65, vegetable consumption averages 2.9 servings daily, compared with 3.1 servings for those 19-59 years old. Among females, an average of 38% consumed the recommended servings of vegetables, slightly higher than the 37% who ate the recommended servings in the 19-59 age bracket.

Barbara Berry, vice president of programs for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., said that more recent research also validates the idea that older men are strong consumers of fruits and vegetables.

In fact, she said the PBH board recently reviewed data from an eating survey conducted with data from 1999-2001.

“We were surprised that older men do so much better than everyone else,” she said.

NEW PYRAMID

While recent discussions have considered the need to increase recommendations of fruit and vegetable consumption, the USDA report noted that Tufts University researchers have created an “elderly pyramid” which accounts for reduced energy needs of the aged by reducing the recommended servings of food groups.

In their pyramid, the elderly would be encouraged to eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit, rather than three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruit listed in the USDA’s food pyramid. The elderly pyramid also allows for vitamin supplements for calcium, vitamin D and vitamins B-12.

The elderly pyramid recommends at least 6 servings of grains, rather than the 6 to 11 servings the Food Guide Pyramid recommends. The graphic also stresses the need to consume eight servings of water each day.