Contemporary Issues in Food and Nutrition for Adolescents The importance of establishing health promoting practices during childhood and adolescence has long been recognized by nutritionists and other health professionals. The purpose of this paper is to investigate further the issues relating to adolescents’ diets and contributing factors. Contributing factors include the increase of fast food consumption, unconventional meal patterns and lack of exercise. During adolescence, the influences on eating habits are numerous.
The growing independence of adolescents, increased participation in social life and a generally busy schedule of activities have a great impact on food intake.
? In the September 2007 issue of ‘Health Promotion International’, a survey of 18,486 secondary school students at 322 schools across all Australian states (except Western Australia) has found that a significant proportion of students fall short of current, national dietary and physical activity recommendations for teenagers. A new study suggests that as teens enter adulthood, they are more likely to skip meals, resulting in a very unconventional meal pattern.
Breakfast is frequently neglected and omitted more often by teenagers as they enter high school as they see it as an unnecessary hassle. These diets are likely to be bizarre and unbalanced. Though appetite is great, meal times tend to be irregular due to pre-occupation with school, other social activities or even a part time job. Therefore snacking in between meals is common. Skipping breakfast, for example, can lead to greater levels of hunger later in the day, causing overeating, or the choosing of heavy foods that fill you up faster, but may lack nutritional values.
For teenage girls, lunch is usually skipped as a way of controlling weight. As adolescents go through puberty, they are bound to feel more pressured by their peers about the shape and size of their body, sexual development, and their general appearance. Due to this pressure, they are more likely to be self-conscious, resulting in unstable diets. These diets are usually also caused by the increasing amount of junk food consumption. The increase in junk food consumption is an important factor in a teen’s diet.
This could be due to the increased independence and responsibility for food preparation that adolescents face during this developmental transition. Fast food, such as McDonalds, is a quick, easy and tasty option for aging adolescents who may have a busy day-to-day schedule and who may be used to relying on parents to prepare their meals. Also published in the September issue of Health Promotion International, a survey indicates that secondary school students between the ages of 12 and 17 are consuming far too much junk food and not enough vegetables and fruit.
The survey found that only 20% of students were meeting the daily requirement of four serves of vegetables while 39% were eating the recommended three daily serves of fruit. “Our survey found consumption of unhealthy/non-core foods was high, with 46% of students having fast food meals at least twice a week, 51% eating snack foods four or more times per week, and 44% having high-energy drinks four or more times per week,” states Dr Victoria White, from the Centre of Behavioural Research in Victoria.
The survey findings also highlight the need for secondary students to spend more time being physically active and less time in front of the television and computer. The problem of childhood obesity has recently skyrocketed, mainly in the Western nations. Established in an online article on the website ‘For Parents, By Parents’, approximately 16-33% of children and teens are considered obese. While obesity is one of the easiest medical conditions to diagnosis, it can be one of the most difficult to treat.
The same online article also states that poor diet and lack of exercise results in over 300,000 deaths every year. “We found that only 14% of students engaged in recommended levels of physical activity and about 70% exceeded recommended levels of sedentary behaviour,” Dr Victoria White once again states. Current recommendations state teenagers should do at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day and spend no more than 2 hours per day using electronic media for entertainment.
Unhealthy weight increases during adolescence have been associated with fasting insulin, increased levels of cholesterol and risk factors for heart disease and systolic blood pressure in young adulthood. Since adolescent obesity is a significant predictor of overweight status in adulthood, it is important to identify dietary behaviours early on that are associated with unhealthy weight gain in order to create effective interventions.
It has been investigated that the three of the largest factors in adolescents’ diets include their unconventional meal pattern, increasing of junk food consumption and lack of exercise. The increased snack food intake and lack of required exercise result in a very disproportioned and unbalanced diet, which eventually leads to other fatal diseases such as risk of heart failure. Therefore, adolescents’ diet should be observed carefully to avoid an unhealthy epidemic.