While daily consumption of fruits and vegetables (FVs) is widely recognized to be associated with supporting nutrition and health, disparities exist in consumer food environments regarding access to high-quality produce based on location. The purpose of this study was to evaluate FV quality using total phenolic (TP) scores (a phytochemical measure for health-promoting attributes, flavor, appearance, and shelf-life) in consumer food environments along a rural to urban continuum in the rural state of Montana, United States. Significant differences were found in the means of the FV TP scores (p
< 0.0001) and vegetable TP scores (p
< 0.0001) on the basis of rurality, while no significant difference was found for fruit TP scores by rurality (p
< 0.2158). Specifically, FV TP scores and vegetable TP scores were highest for the least rural stores and lowest for the most rural stores. Results indicate an access gap to high-quality vegetables in more rural and more health-disparate consumer food environments of Montana compared to urban food environments. Findings highlight that food and nutrition interventions should aim to increase vegetable quality in rural consumer food environments in the state of Montana towards enhancing dietary quality and food choices. Future studies are called for that examine TP scores of a wide range of FVs in diverse food environments globally. Studies are further needed that examine linkages between FV quality, food choices, diets, and health outcomes towards enhancing food environments for public health.
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