California's Bikini-Busting Diet

There goes California's reputation as the land of buff Baywatch bodies and alfalfa-sprout salads. The biggest survey ever of Californians' eating habits was released Tuesday, and the news wasn't good.

The bottom line: Californians are not coming close to the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets, and that's leading to disease. As a matter of fact, California adults ate fewer fruits and vegetables last year than they did two years before: 3.8 servings a day compared with 4.1 in 1995. Health experts say adults should be eating at least five servings every day.

"I'm not a healthy eater," admitted Kim Lontz, 35, as she ordered chili dogs and hamburgers for herself and her two children at a shopping mall in Sacramento. "My kids are. I'm a fast-food nut."

The state Health Department has been conducting food surveys every two years since 1989, when the rate was the same as last year's 3.8 servings a day.

Officials believe that public education campaigns had been working up until 1995, when people began slipping into their old bad habits because of job-related pressures.

"People are eating out more. They have less time. Their commutes are longer," said James Stratton, a state health officer.

"Two out of three California adults fail to eat the minimum daily five servings of fruits and vegetables needed for good health," added Stratton.

For the survey, 1,700 randomly selected adults were interviewed about their fruit and vegetable consumption habits.

The figures were particularly bad for black and Hispanic Californians. For blacks, it was 3.1 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, up only slightly from 3.0 in 1995. For Hispanics, it dropped from 4.7 servings in 1995 to 3.9.

People earning under $15,000 a year ate just 3.1 servings a day, compared with 3.8 servings for people with incomes from $15,000 to $25,000.

The best diets were found among those earning $25,000 to $35,000, who ate 4.3 servings a day. People earning over $50,000 a year ate just 3.9 servings.

Stratton said many poor people and minorities consider fresh fruit and vegetables too expensive. "It's ironic to think that access and affordability would be a problem in a state that grows half of the nation's fruits and vegetables," he said.

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