Psychology Explains Why Guys Don't Eat Vegetables

A man looks at his vegetables with disdain
(Image credit: Guy health food photo via Shutterstock)

Men are much less likely to eat their veggies than women, and now researchers say they know part of the reason why.

In a new study, men reported less favorable attitudes than women about the value of eating fruits and vegetables, and men also said they had less control over their fruit and vegetable intake than women did.

The study showed that "men don’t believe as strongly as women that fruit and vegetable consumption is an important part of maintaining health," said study researcher John A. Updegraff, associate professor of social and health psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. It also showed that "men feel less confident in their ability to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, especially when they are at work or in front of the television," he said.

The findings suggest that messages that are effective in encouraging women to eat more produce don't work so well on men. "It's important to help men understand the importance of a healthy diet, as well as to develop confidence in their ability to make those healthy choices, whether it be at work or at home," Updegraff said.

Fruits and vegetables, and beliefs

In the study, Updegraff and his colleagues set out to look at whether an idea in psychology called "the theory of planned behavior" could explain what so many studies have shown — that men are much less likely than women to meet the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake.

This theory looks at the link between people’s beliefs, and their behavior, Updegraff said, and the researchers looked at three beliefs that should motivate people to eat nutritious food: their attitudes toward fruit and vegetables, their feeling of control over their diet, and their awareness that other people want them to improve their diet.  

The researchers used data from nearly 3,400 people gathered as part of the National Cancer Institute's Food Attitudes and Behavior survey. The survey, conducted in 2007, included questions aimed at measuring people's attitudes, beliefs and behaviors regarding food. About 40 percent of those surveyed were between 35 and 54 years old.

On the whole, the researchers found that women had more favorable attitudes toward eating fruits and vegetables. For example, women were more likely to agree that if they ate plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, they would look better, and live a longer life.

Additionally, the researchers found that women reported greater confidence in their abilities to eat fruits or vegetables as a snack even when they were tired, really hungry, or around family or friends who were eating junk foods.

Peer pressure doesn’t work

While the theory of planned behavior is well-accepted among most health researchers, the new study is the first to use it to figure out why women consume more fruits and vegetables than men, Updegraff said.

The findings suggest "some fruitful avenues" for improving men's diets, he said.

"What might work best is teaching men ways to take control over their fruit and vegetable consumption," he said. For example, men could be shown options for eating healthy while at work, or how to better include fruits and vegetables in their in-front-of-the-TV snacks. 

The study also suggested that one technique isn't likely to get men to eat better: peer pressure. "It turns out that this peer pressure is not a particularly strong motivator, for either men or for women," Updegraff said. In the study, men actually reported greater pressure than women from others around them to eat more fruits and vegetables, but still consumed less.

The study was published online Aug. 13 in the journal Appetite.

Pass it on: Guys who want to eat healthier should focus on the benefits of eating of better, as well as on developing their sense of control over their diet.

Originally published on Live Science.

Karen Rowan
Health Editor
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.