Healthy eating habits start through adolescent education

In the field of nutrition, we are taught about the importance of good nutrition habits, the role of vitamins and minerals, and which diets are better for preventing chronic disease later in life. However, as I look back several years ago to when I was in high school, I remember not understanding why the diets advertised in the media were not truly healthy or why bringing food from home was a better option than grabbing fast food for lunch.

After taking numerous nutrition classes and graduating from college, it was easy to look around and notice that friends I had known for years had carried their old eating habits over into adulthood — which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

As kids start independently making their own meal choices, it’s crucial that they be able to identify healthy foods and their contribution to overall health. Without knowing the fat, sodium and sugar content of fast foods, teenagers may fall victim to the marketing strategies of low nutritional value foods that target them.

With the amount of information that is thrown at teenagers throughout their high school years, it can be nearly impossible to differentiate between the facts and theories of nutrition without proper guidance.

Knowledge is Power

High school may be the only opportunity for nutrition education for many young Americans, which is why it is so important that they learn to make healthy choices, identify proper portion sizes and know the recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings.

A study conducted in 2011 provided nutrition education lectures for their students and then tested their knowledge with quizzes over healthy eating habits, preventing disease and nutrient deficiencies, and food safety basics. Students who received education in these classes were found to have significant improvements in their understanding of macronutrients, micronutrients and the food pyramid.

Another study done in 2012 found that implementing nutrition programs in high school led to increased breakfast consumption, higher intake of fruits and vegetables and decreased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. This study was able to conclude that increased knowledge is associated with increased well-being in high schoolers.

Meeting the Demand

The increasing percentage of overweight students indicates a higher need for nutrition education classes and health and wellness policies in high schools. With the amount of time that kids spend in school, it would be extremely beneficial to implement these classes and work towards decreasing childhood obesity and increasing student health.

The younger the age that nutrition education classes could begin, the better the results would be.

Schools provide the perfect environment for kids to learn about healthy eating behaviors, which would improve their cognitive function (and memory!) and reduce absenteeism.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle at an early age would help prevent an energy imbalance and reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese. Not only would students’ knowledge increase, but their attitude and behavior regarding health and wellness would improve as well.

Nutrition education classes have been shown to be a cost-effective method to ensure that adolescents are receiving the knowledge they need to lead happy, healthy lives.

For more nutrition education or to speak with a registered dietitian, visit Baylor Scott & White Health nutrition services

Information within this post was contributed by Lauren Pittman, dietetic intern for Baylor Scott & White Health.


References:

Heo M, Irvin E, Ostrovsky N, Isasi C, Blank AE, Lounsbury DW, Fredericks L, Yom T, Ginsberg M, Hayes S, Wylie-Rosett J. Behaviors and knowledge of HealthCorps New York City high school students:  Nutrition, mental health, and physical activity. Journal of School Health. 2016;86(2):84-95.

Hoffman PK, Davey CS, Larson N, Grannon KY, Hanson C, Nanney MS. School district wellness policy quality and weight-related outcomes among high school students in Minnesota. Health Educ Res. 2016;31(2):234-246. doi:  https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyv101

Pelletier JE, Laska MN, MacLehose R, Nelson TF, Nanney MS. Evidence-based policies on school nutrition and physical education:  Associations with state-level collaboration, obesity, and socio-economic indicators. Preventive Medicine. 2017. doi:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.02.005

Childhood nutrition facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:  https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm. Last updated January 25, 2017. Accessed February 22, 2017.

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Healthy eating habits start through adolescent education