Thursday, May 19, 2016

Slicing your way to an apple a day: Americans' apple consumption is on the rise because we're eating them in small pieces

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By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

Presentation is everything. Apple consumption is on the rise, and researchers at Cornell University think pre-sliced apples are the cause.

The 2013 Cornell study explored why so many whole apples served in school lunches ended up uneaten in the trash. Researchers found that eating whole apples can be difficult for young children with small mouths and for kids with missing teeth or braces. The study also noted that older girls find whole fruits messy and unattractive to eat.

The study found that consumption jumped by more than 60 percent when apples were served sliced. These findings back up U.S. Department of Agriculture statistical data about overall apple consumption. Data show that Americans ate more than 510 million pre-sliced apples in 2014, up from fewer than 150 a decade before.

Likewise, overall apple consumption has grown by 13 percent percent since 2010, according to USDA data. Americans ate about 17.5 pounds per capita in 2013, the most in nearly a decade.

Why does simply slicing an apple matter? The difference between a whole apple and apple slices may seem silly or superficial, especially to an adult, but the inconvenience is a barrier nonetheless, David Just, a professor of behavioral economics at Cornell and one of the researchers behind the study, told Roberto Ferdman of The Washington Post.

"It sounds simplistic, but even the simplest forms of inconvenience affect consumption," Just said. "Sliced apples just make a lot more sense for kids."

The rise of mass-produced pre-sliced apples probably has a lot to do with the fast food industry. McDonald's added apple slices to its menu in 2004 in an effort to give parents healthier options. The company began automatically serving apple slices with Happy Meals in 2012, causing apple sales to skyrocket.

McDonald's has served more than 2 billion packages since first offering apple slices as a side, a representative for the company told the Post. In 2015 alone, the company served nearly 250 million packages of sliced apples, which amounts to more than 60 million apples, or about 10 percent of all fresh sliced apples sold in the United States, the Post noted.

The USDA, which oversees school lunch programs, can't be sure of how many schools offer pre-sliced apples versus whole apples, as local school districts make that decision. However, the agency does make recommendations and encourages schools make fruit appealing in presentation.

The problem with the pre-sliced apple trend? It may lessen food waste, but it increases plastic waste, which puts a strain on the environment. McDonald's apple slices, for example, are served in plastic wrappers. These wrappers are recyclable, yes, but two important differentials exist. First, "recyclable" does not mean it was made of recycled materials, only that it has the potential to be recycled. Second, just because consumers can recycle the wrappers does not mean they will.

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