2 September 1998

Ditch The Diet Book

Workers in a program to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables are more likely to be ready to change their diet if they believe they have strong support from co-workers and family members, researchers report.

"Family members and coworkers have the potential to play an important role in determining the climate of health behavior and can assist in influencing health behaviors, such as eating habits," say Glorian Sorensen, PhD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and her colleagues, writing in the October Health Education & Behavior.

Health promotion programs, they urge, should target the eating habits of all family members rather than focus on individuals at high risk of illness. That way, the programs can "build on the foundation of family support and divert the focus away from a single `labeled' individual," they explain. "Similarly, programs in the work site can foster co-worker norms that build support for behavior change."

The research team examined questionnaire responses from more than 1,300 workers from 22 mental health centers participating in the National Cancer Institute's 5-a-Day for Better Health initiative. (MORE)

The questionnaire asked workers' current vegetable and fruit consumption, their readiness to change their diet, and the support they perceived from co-workers and family members.

Compared with those merely contemplating diet change, those making preparations to eat more fruit and vegetables reported greater levels of support among co-workers or family members. Social support was greater among African American and Hispanic workers than among other ethnic groups, even after the researchers controlled for income, education, and occupation level.

As income increased, workers were more likely to be already eating more fruits and vegetables. Smokers were least likely to be contemplating or already adding fruits and vegetables to their diet.