NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Urban black men in the U.S. typically fit few fruits and vegetables into their diets and most are unaware of how many servings they should be getting, a new study suggests.

Health experts generally recommend that men eat at least nine servings, or about 4.5 cups, of fruits and vegetables each day. But in the current study, of 490 urban, mostly immigrant black men, the average intake was just three servings per day.

What’s more, 94 percent were unaware that men should strive for nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. When asked what health experts recommend, most of the men in the study chose “one to four” servings as their answer.

Dr. Randi L. Wolf, an associate professor of human nutrition at Columbia University in New York, led the study. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

In the U.S., black men face elevated risks of many health problems that could be partly ameliorated through a healthy diet — including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Yet research shows that black adults, whether foreign- or U.S.-born, have particularly low intakes of fruits and vegetables.

It’s not that black men do not recognize the value of such foods, Wolf and her colleagues found. Ninety-four percent of the study participants knew that fruits and vegetables are a key source of fiber, and just as many recognized that the foods offer health benefits — though they often could not specify what those are.

In addition, most of the men knew that vitamin and mineral supplements are not a substitute for eating fruits and vegetables.

Still, the fact that so few men knew that they should strive for nine servings a day is “alarming,” according to Wolf’s team. The few men who were aware of the recommendations, they note, did tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The findings highlight a need for effective ways of getting the healthy-eating message out to black men, in particular, the researchers say.

That, Wolf told Reuters Health, includes not only mass-level efforts — like the federal government’s “9-A-Day” campaign — but more-individualized education interventions to raise awareness of the official recommendations, and how to meet them.

For example, the researchers recently completed a study looking at whether an education program delivered over the phone can boost fruit- and-vegetable consumption in urban, primarily immigrant black men.

Those results have not yet been published.

“The lack of awareness of the current dietary recommendations related to fruits and vegetables is alarming,” Wolf and her colleagues conclude, “and implores health experts to rethink how messages about diet and nutrition can reach this population.”

SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2008.

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