Consumption of fruits and vegetables is abysmally low among middle-and high-income groups in urban India, according to a survey conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in five Indian cities. The survey shows that the younger generation is consuming even less nutritious food than older people, primarily due to lifestyle choices.

The survey covered 1,001 individuals aged 18 years and above in the National Capital Region, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. The average intake of fruit and vegetables was 3.5 servings or 280 grams per day. It comprised of 1.5 servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables. This is much lower than the recommendation of five servings a day by the World Health Organisation.

“The average intake of younger generation was even lower," said Arpita Mukherjee, professor in ICRIER and lead author of the study. For the age group 18-25 years, it is 2.97 servings per day. The average intake among students is abysmally low at 2.94 servings a day.

More than 500 respondents said that they are unable to eat proper food for lifestyle reasons like long working hours and consumption of junk food. Lack of availability of fruits and vegetables round the year and their high costs were cited as other important reasons.

“It is a perception that people in rural areas only face lack of nutrition. But because most households there grow their own vegetables, they can meet the requirements. In urban areas lack of proximity to spaces of production is a major issue," said Pravesh Sharma, former managing director, Small Farmers’ Agri-Business Consortium.

The survey found that consumption of fruit and vegetables is highest in Chennai (4.35 servings per day) and lowest in Kolkata (2.81 servings per day).

“Consuming fruit and vegetables is important not only for vitamins and minerals, but also phytonutrients, which are useful chemicals found only in fruit and vegetables. They are important in preventing and fighting diseases," said Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist with The Weight Monitor, an online weight management portal.

Mukherjee said that two important recommendations emerged from the survey. “The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 sets guidelines for processed food, but not for fresh food items. We recommend that fresh fruit and vegetables should have guidelines and be checked for pesticides and insecticides. Secondly, we need a nutraceutical policy in India which can govern nutrition supplements," said Mukherjee.