A study finds rural residents don’t eat as much produce as city folks, even though rural people live closer to where the fruits and vegetables are grown. Nawal Lutfiyya, a research scientist and epidemiologist at the Essentia Institute of Rural Health, says the findings were unexpected.

Lutfiyya says, “When you took information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the high-producing agricultural states and looked at consumption of fruits and vegetables, rural residents were less likely by state to be consuming the recommended levels of fruits and vegetables.”

The study showed that among the states growing the most fruits and vegetables, Hawaii is the only one where rural residents eat more produce than urban residents. “I thought that was interesting because, as we know, the production of fruits and vegetables are typically done in rural areas,” Lutfiyya says.

“That really brings up an issue of access and cost.” She notes, you could be a rural person living next to a huge farm that produces fruits and vegetables and not have the means to buy them, so people in the city, who are farther removed from the source, tend to be the more likely consumers.

The difference in Iowa is very small, according to the study, as about 17.8% of rural Iowans eat the recommended allowances of fruits and veggies, compared to almost 18% of Iowa’s city dwellers. Researchers also learned women are more likely to eat the recommended amount of produce than men, while married folks consume more than singles.

“In households where there were no children, both adults were more likely to consume five or more fruits and vegetables,” Lutfiyya says. “People getting at least moderate physical activity were also more likely to consume the recommended levels of fruits and vegetables as well as people with lower BMIs (body mass index).”

The study found fruit and veggie eaters are generally better educated and more economically stable than those who skip the produce aisle. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption reduces the risk for a number of diseases and early death, she says. The study aims to identify groups that are at risk.

The Duluth, Minnesota-based Institute is part of Essentia Health, a non-profit health system serving primarily rural residents in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Idaho.