In 2001 the UK Department of Health funded pilot community-based interventions to improve fruit and vegetable intakes in five economically deprived areas of England. The effectiveness of the programme and the use of a brief tool for evaluating community interventions are reported here.
Data on intakes of and beliefs about fruit and vegetables were collected by a short postal questionnaire (FACET – Five-a-day Community Evaluation Tool) simultaneously from 810 individuals living in the pilot communities and 270 individuals who were participating in an unrelated observational study (controls). Data were collected before and after a 12-month intervention period. Quantitative dietary data derived from 7-day food diaries available for control subjects were used to assess the ability of the FACET questionnaire to estimate fruit and vegetable intakes.
Compared with controls, the intervention group significantly increased their knowledge of the 5-a-day optimum (P < 0.01) and reported increased access to fruits and vegetables (P < 0.001). Overall, the intervention had no demonstrable effect on total fruit and vegetable intakes as measured by FACET. However, smoking habit strongly predicted change in fruit and vegetable intakes (P < 0.01) in the intervention group. Opposite trends were observed in the two groups, with ‘smokers’ and ‘non-smokers’ in the intervention and control groups respectively reducing their fruit and vegetable intakes. The FACET questionnaire agreed with food diary estimates of fruit and vegetable intakes in 56% of cases.
Community-based interventions can produce important changes in knowledge of and access to fruit and vegetables. However, in this study change in fruit and vegetable intakes was strongly influenced by smoking habit. This bias needs to be considered in planning future intervention and evaluation programmes. The FACET questionnaire provides acceptable estimates of fruit and vegetable intakes which may be used for grading intake in large community-based projects.