Communities support healthy living and healthy aging

% of adults with disabilities who eat vegetables 3 or more times daily


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Story Behind the Curve

The amount of vegetables you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity.  In general, the USDA recommends eating vegetables three times a day.  At every meal, half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables contribute important nutrients to the human body. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of many chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers.

Sixteen percent of adults with any disability reported eating vegetables three times a day in 2017, compared to 22% with no disability. This is a statistical difference. As it is the first year this data was collected, we have no trend information at this time, but will be monitoring the trend in the future.

This disparity is influenced by lack of access, both monetary and physical, to fresh vegetables. Vermonters with disabilities may have trouble shopping or cooking. They may have limited food choices where they live. They may also have trouble chewing or swallowing due to their disability.

What Works
  • Healthy Community Design strategies such as incorporating accessible community gardens, farmers markets, and zoning policies that meet or go beyond Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility. This ensures that all people can utilize public sidewalks, roads, parks and other public facilities.
  • Extending food and nutrition assistance programs, such as SNAP and WIC, to include farmers’ market purchases for fruits and vegetables increases access for individuals and families with low-income to access fresh produce. This can be done with coupons or electronic benefit transfer (EBT), which many farmer’s markets take. For many, fresh produce is too expensive, but these programs provides access to these items at lower cost.
  • Nutrition classes that can accommodate people with disabilities can empower them with meal planning, shopping and cooking skills, which many had the opportunity to learn on their own. Planning and cooking at home using whole foods helps increase nutrition and reduce dependence on prepared food that are high in sodium.

At the Vermont Department of Health, multiple strategies are being utilized to increase vegetable consumption among adults with disabilities. Through a grant from the CDC, the division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, including the physical activity and nutrition program, is working to ensure their work is accessible and inclusive to individuals living with cognitive impairment and movement challenges. Work through this grant to date has included:

    • Nutrition label reading workshop at the Green Mountain Self Advocates conferences.
    • Social media posts for Special Olympics on healthy, portable veggie snacks.
    • A newsletter article on healthy eating during the holidays for the Brain Injury Association of Vermont.
    • A newsletter article for Vermont Center on Independent Living on packing healthy lunches.

This work will expand in the coming years, as well as work with our grantees to ensure their services are accessible to all.

Why Is This Important?

Fruits and vegetables contribute important nutrients to the human body. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of many chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers. Eating fruits and vegetables can also help with weight management.

Notes on Methodology

Prevalence describes the proportion of individuals with a given trait in the population during a specified period of time. It is calculated by using descriptive statistical procedures using software such as SPSS, SAS, and/or SUDAAN.

Vermont tracks risk behaviors and chronic disease using a telephone survey of adults called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS). Vermont participates in the BRFSS with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results are weighted to represent the adult population (18 or older) of the state.

In 2017, the CDC changed how they asked fruit and vegetable consumption questions and what specific fruits and vegetables were asked about within the questions. As a result, the Vermont Department of Health recommends that comparisons between BRFSS fruit and vegetable consumption data from 2017 forward and 2015 and earlier years be made with caution. Statistical differences may be due to methodological changes in data collection, rather than changes in opinion or behavior.

As of 2016, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) adults with any disability definition includes anyone who reports serious difficulty seeing, hearing, walking or climbing stairs, dressing or bathing, concentrating or making decisions, or who, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition has difficulty doing errands alone. For additional information on the questions used to collect these data please refer to the Health of Vermonters Living with Disabilities. Every other year the BRFSS includes questions about physical activity, including how often and the intensity people are physically active in an average week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that U.S. adults engage in at least 150-minutes of moderate or 75-minutes of vigorous activity, these breakpoints therefore are used to generate data on whether aerobic physical activity guidelines have been met or not.

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