Beyond the vending machine
Can teens eat healthy?
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URBANA -- Soda for
breakfast, a burger for lunch and pizza for supper. Intersperse this
with vending machine snack food, at least two or three more cans of
pop, and a late-night trip to the kitchen for chips or ice cream,
and you've got the average teenager's diet.
Where did we go wrong? That's the
question millions of parents ask themselves as they watch their
children graze through the minefield of high-fat, high-calorie junk
food. Take heart, parents. Research does show that if
pre-adolescents are taught healthy nutritional practices, they will
return to those practices as adults.
But what about right now? Statistics
show that few teens eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a
day. Most need to substantially increase their fiber intake, and
almost all the girls and half the boys need more calcium and Vitamin
D. A huge percentage need less saturated fat and sodium.
As a result, many teens face an
increased risk for serious health problems such as obesity, type 2
diabetes and, later in life, osteoporosis.
"But scare tactics don't work with
adolescents," said Rebecca Roach, a nutrition education coordinator
at the University of Illinois. "They think nothing bad will ever
happen to them, so development of chronic disease is not a
motivating factor for them to improve their nutrition."
What will motivate a teenager?
Roach believes their developing curiosity about the world around
them can be used to guide their nutritional choices.
"This is a time in life when they're
just beginning to be interested in environmental and political
issues," said Roach.
Introducing teens to organic, locally
grown produce sold at farmers' markets will also introduce them to
the concept of sustainable agriculture, as well as make them more
aware of what they are consuming and where their food comes from.
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But, you say, my teen's social
consciousness doesn't extend past what she's going to wear to the
mall Friday night. What can I do to make changes in her
"Parents have to practice what they
preach," said Roach. "We might think adolescents are out of our
control, but if we want to have a real influence on them, we have to
show them what we want them to do. We have to eat five
servings of fruits and vegetables a day. We have to pattern the
behavior we want them to have."
Roach also suggests:
who want more help in determining a proper diet for their children,
Roach recommends the American Dietetic Association website,
association publishes the Food Guide Pyramid and a variety of other
helpful material on nutrition and health.
[University of Illinois news release]