According to a variety of published studies, women are far more likely than men to consume fruits and vegetables, and the gender gap seems to be widening. Researchers at Kent State University in Ohio set out to get to the bottom of this chasm of consumption by approaching it from a psychological standpoint. Their findings, published in the journal Appetite, described fascinating psychological and psychosocial differences responsible for the attitudinal divide between men and women.
The team of researchers, which included John A. Updegraff, an associate professor in the department of psychology, and Amber Emanuel, a doctoral student in Experimental Psychology who works with Dr. Updegraff in his Self, Health, and Emotion Lab, used data from the National Cancer Institute’s 2007 Food Attitudes and Behavior (FAB) Survey to assess the extent to which gender differences in fruit and vegetable intake (FVI) are attributable to gender differences in constructs from the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), which states that attitudes toward behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control, together shape an individual's behavioral intentions and behaviors.
The FAB asked nearly 3,400 participants a battery of questions regarding their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward foods. The researchers used the questions as a jumping off point and constructed three variables to assess attitudes, perceived behavioral control, and perceived norms. “We started by looking at three beliefs for which men might differ from women: their attitudes about fruits and vegetables, their perceived control over increasing consumption, and their perceptions of social norms surrounding fruit and vegetable consumption,” Ms. Emanuel told Nutraceuticals World. “We found that males reported less positive attitudes and lower levels of perceived control than females, and these differences completely accounted for the gender difference in consumption.”
Women generally had more favorable attitudes toward eating fruits and vegetables as go-to snacks, and were more likely to acknowledge FVIs role in looking better and living a longer life. Males, on the other hand, reported greater perceived norms for fruit and vegetable intake, but norms did not predict that intake. “Gender did not moderate the influence of TPB constructs on FVI. Thus, TPB constructs substantially explained the gender difference. Interventions targeted toward adult males may benefit by promoting favorable attitudes and perceived behavioral control over FVI,” the researchers wrote.
“Though not surprising based on previous literature, our study found that males already feel pressure from others to increase their FVI,” explained Ms. Emanuel. “So males are cognizant that family and friends want them to eat more fruits and veggies, but this pressure doesn’t appear to work.”
She also suggested how some simple strategies that tied into increasing a man’s sense of control might encourage greater FVI among men. “Future campaigns targeted towards males might want to create more favorable attitudes toward fruits and vegetables, perhaps by highlighting that fruit and vegetables can help a man have more energy or live a longer life,” she said. “Campaigns might also want to provide men with suggestions on how to increase their perceptions of control by providing them with ways they can increase their ability to eat fruit and vegetables across many situations—such as when watching TV or when others are eating junk food.”
Ms. Emanuel went on to say that this study was among the first to look closely at the gender differences associated with fruit and vegetable consumption, but there are still many avenues in this vein worth digging deeper into. “The findings of our study suggest that men might really benefit from better information about the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as some simple strategies to take control in situations where the ordinary temptation might be to eat meat or junk food,” she said. “These would be really important next steps for research.”
For more information, or to obtain a copy of the study in its entirety, click this link.