Fresh VegetablesFruits and vegetables sold in rural Montana stores cost the same but are of lower quality than those sold in urban stores, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The quality of fruits and vegetables could be a factor in obesity and obesity-related diseases that affect a higher proportion of rural residents than urban dwellers, said researchers at Montana State University.

Previous studies show that Montana adults average only 1 serving of fruit and 1.6 servings of vegetables each day. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend a dietary pattern that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.

Researchers randomly selected 20 rural grocery stores in 12 Montana counties and used a standard survey to assess the availability, price and quality of fruits and vegetables. The average quality was 4.5 out of 6, with the most rural stores receiving the lowest scores.

The results signal the need for more research and strategies to improve the quality of produce, decrease health disparities and improve the diet and health of rural residents, researchers said.