Food and Adolescence

Adolescence is one of the most dynamic and complex transitions in the lifespan, characterised by rapid biological, psychological and social change. Adolescence is the age of exploratory, sometimes risky, behaviour and is a time when the physiological need for lifestyles including diets with high nutritional quality is particularly important.

The eating behaviours of adolescents are likely to play an important role in the development of a range of chronic conditions, including overweight and obesity. Furthermore, eating patterns, preferences and habits adopted during this life phase may track into adulthood.
Many adolescents have unhealthy diets. For example, data from the Health Behaviour in School Children (HBSC) study shows that less than two-fifths of young people eat fruit daily, and only about a third eat vegetables each day. Furthermore, dietary trend data from the United States suggests that daily caloric intake appears to be increasing in young people – primarily from energy-dense nutrientpoor foods, an increase in snacks, eating away from home and an increase in portion sizes.

New research described in this Newsletter throws further light on adolescent eating behaviours. Female adolescents in particular were likely to report persistent use of unhealthy weight control behaviours, which are often associated with poorer dietary intake and less frequent meals. Females were more likely to eat out-of home foods, compared to males. Out-of-home eating added a number of desirable foods and nutrients to adolescents’ diets, but was also associated with higher consumption of energy from fat and sugars. Obesogenic diets and physical activity behaviours were associated – weakly, and associations differed for males and females.

The findings highlight the complexity of adolescent dietary behaviours. Gender differences in dietary behaviours warrant further investigation. Multi-level influences on adolescent dietary behaviours need to be better understood for the design and implementation of effective interventions promoting healthy dietary behaviours among adolescents.

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