Teen Eating Habits By Pamela Williams, MPH, R.D.

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Health care providers, parents and teachers seem to be in agreement — many teens do not eat healthy. And the research seems to agree with them. For example, in a Health Policy Research Brief, the University of California, Los Angeles, reported that only 38 percent of California teens get five fruits and vegetables a day; 43 percent eat fast foods every day; and 62 percent drink soda regularly.

This type of data is not limited to California teens. Another study among teens from Turkey, reported that 31 percent of teenagers ate fast food and more than 60 percent of the teens surveyed skipped meals.2

There are other teen habits that work against good health: skipping out on calcium sources such as milk, eating snack foods that are calorie-loaded but short on nutrients, and skipping meals such as breakfast. 

We all agree; it’s tough convincing teens to make healthy choices but not impossible. So, how do we get them to eat healthy?

Getting parents to buy healthy and eat healthy is a step in the right direction. Keeping fresh fruits and vegetables in the home, serving reasonable portion sizes and limiting nutrient dense snacks can help support healthy choices. When parents eat healthy, they role model or show rather than tell teens what to eat.

Linking healthy habits to goals teens want to achieve can stimulate a desire to eat healthy. For example, connecting a healthy breakfast to information recall during testing may be important to them. Or, showing how performance in competitive sports is at its best when teen athletes choose healthy foods.

Involving teens by letting them choose healthy foods and providing on-the-go healthy choices can encourage healthy habits. If they will eat trail mix with walnuts instead of almonds, get walnuts. Then pre-package the trail mix so they can grab and go. Let them choose the breakfast cereal but establish that sugar can’t be among the first five ingredients listed on the box. Keep healthy snacks and avoid stocking sodas, cookies, and potato chips in the house.

Parents and other adults who choose to be content about body image and avoid complaints about their image help teens to establish being comfortable with their body image. If parents desire to be healthy then they talk, walk and live healthy. Teens will see what their parents are doing and have a better chance of picking up the same habits.

Admittedly, it’s tough for teens and most of us to make healthy changes but not impossible. Establish healthy choices and most likely, teens will see how it’s done. 
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1. Diamant AL, Babey SH, Jones M, & Brown ER. 2009. Teen Dietary Habits Related to Those of Parents. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, UC Los Angeles.  http://escholarship.org/uc/item/2xh88342. Accessed, 12/27/10.

2. Akman M, et al. Eating patterns of Turkish adolescents: a cross-sectional study. Nutrition Journal. 2010. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/67. Accessed 12/27/10.

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Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D., is a dietitian and writes from Cypress, CA. All rights reserved © 2011 AnswersForMe.org. Click here for content usage information.