I had the chance to chat on Sept. 27 with Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive office of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del.

9:30 a.m. Tom Karst: Why is the NPD Group’s research on fruit and vegetable consumption significant?

9:31 a.m. Elizabeth Pivonka: What we are seeing is that there are increases and decreases within certain segments of adults, but overall as adults, (consumption) is relatively flat. What we did see in the NPD data set is that children, the youngest ones, are up a little bit over the past few years. So that’s actually nice to see.

We are actually seeing shifts within different age categories. For example, one set that we haven’t released yet, shows those 65 and older are eating less than they were eating five years ago. That was a surprise to us, because usually people eat more fruits and vegetables as they get older. For the youngest children, parents seem to be paying a little more attention to what they are feeding their children; because of this whole childhood obesity has been in news about three years now. So perhaps parents are heeding that advice.

9:33 a.m. Karst: What specific ages are we talking about that have a growth in consumption?

9:33 a.m. Pivonka: Those ages six and under are doing the best. In terms of fruit, we’re seeing an 11% increase over the past five years and a 3% increase in vegetable consumption. For that age group, combined fruit and vegetable consumption has been growing 7%. Six to 12 year olds were up 5% for fruits and vegetables overall.

9:34 a.m. Karst: Perhaps parents are more watchful and doing a better job in regulating the diets of children?

9:35 a.m. Pivonka: That’s what I’m thinking. I think this whole childhood obesity piece came to light around 2003 when we started hearing more and more about it and parents are listening to that. I think that is part of it. The 13 or 17 year olds were down 4% in combined fruit and vegetable consumption. Now the 13- to 17-year olds, the oldest of those children then wouldn’t have been impacted by this childhood obesity discussion because they were already early teens by the times their parents heard about the childhood obesity problem.

What will be interesting to see is what will happen in the next five years for these 6- to 12-year olds. The 13- to 17-year olds are down slightly – is it because they are teens or because they didn’t get the message from their parents?

9: 37 a.m. Karst: A source in a New York Times article about the difficulty of moving the needle on vegetable consumption was quoted saying something like, “There is nothing you can say to get people to eat more vegetables.” What is your response to a quote like that?

9:38 a.m. Pivonka: Even when we were developing our More Matters campaign, moms told us that “Fruits are sweet but vegetables, as a parent, I have to do something to them, have to cook them or do something to them, while fruit you can just eat off hand.” Parents, I think, overall, find it a little bit harder to get vegetables into their family’s diet, but there are so many different vegetables and so many ways to prepare them, people just need to try different varieties and see what they like and fix them different ways and see (if their family) likes them various ways. Just as an example, I like raw carrots, so I served those to my family for years. It wasn’t until my daughter was almost ten that I realized she liked cooked carrots better. You just have to try different things.

9:40 a.m. Karst: Many news stories talk about how tough it is to change eating behavior. You are right in the middle of that effort,

9:41 a.m. Pivonka: Some of it is just not having all the other stuff around. Don’t make those an option. I will say it is easier to get my own kids to eat fruit than vegetables, but I also know they like certain vegetables and I make sure those are the ones that are served most frequently.

9:42 a.m. Karst; As you look at what PBH is dong in the next six months, what d you think will be some highlights?

9:43 a.m. Pivonka: We have an analysis of whether or not the government puts their money where their mouth is. They are saying “this is what you should be eating,” but where do they put their money? We did this analysis back in 2002 and wanted to update it so that will be released probably in November. That report looks very interesting. The National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance is working on a report card of all the strategies we had outlined in 2005 that were important to be able to change fruit and vegetable consumption in the nation. So we are issuing that report card, most likely in November as well.

9:44 a..m Karst: Thanks for being available for a chat.

9:44 a.m. Pivonka: You bet.