High school students aren’t consuming enough fruits and vegetables, and may therefore be at a greater risk for many chronic diseases, certain cancers, and obesity, according to a report released last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data on the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten by high school students in 2010 and found that daily intake of these foods fell short of the recommended amounts for both groups.
National dietary guidelines recommend that female adolescents who exercise less than half and hour per day consume 1.5 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables per day. Males should be eating 2 cups of fruits and 3 cups of vegetables. However, data from the 2010 National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study show that high school students are eating an average of 1.2 cups of both fruits and vegetables each day.
For non-Hispanic black students, that number was an even lower 1 cup per day. For Hispanic students it was 1.1 cups; for white students 1.4 cups.
The fruit category included consumption of 100 percent fruit juice in addition to fresh fruits.
The study was largely reflective of the eating patterns of high school age students, but was limited in that it only surveyed students in school, and it is estimated that 4 percent of people age 16-17 are not enrolled in a high school program.
The authors also note that the data was based on self-reporting, and students may have underreported or overreported their fruit and vegetable intake, and that students were asked how many times per day they ate these foods, not how many servings they ate, so average serving amounts were estimated based on this information.
In order to improve fruit and vegetable consumption among this age group, CDC recommends adjusting nutrition policy and creating an environment that promotes eating more of these foods.
“Policy and environmental approaches can be used to improve fruit and vegetable access and availability,” says the report.
These tactics are likely to have a bigger impact than interventions such as education or nutrition counseling, says CDC, because they impact a wider range of children and might have longer-lasting effects.
Federal programs that improve teens’ access to fresh produce, such as the Let’s Move! initiative, Know Your Farmer Know Your Food and Communities Putting Prevention to Work are already working towards creating an environment that promotes fruit and vegetable consumption, the report points out.
The Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program aims to place 6,000 salad bars in schools in the next 3 years.
Explains the analysis, “Because the majority of high school aged children attend school, schools can play a prominent role in supporting fruit and vegetable consumption by providing students with fruits and vegetables and giving sttudents opportunities to learn about and practice healthful eating behaviors.”