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Teenagers’ diets are ‘unhealthy and unsustainable’, study suggests

Most adolescents exceed the recommended limits of sugar intake for each day

Saman Javed
Thursday 05 May 2022 14:44 BST
7 out of 10 teenagers eat less than 100g of fruit a day
7 out of 10 teenagers eat less than 100g of fruit a day (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Seven out of 10 teenagers in England eat less than 100g of fruit per day, a new study suggests.

Most adolescents have an “unhealthy and unsustainable” diet which is high in potatoes and meat, experts said.

The research, which is being presented at the European Congress on Obesity in the Netherlands, assessed food consumption of 942 teenagers from 16 schools in the West Midlands region of England.

The study found that 90 per cent of teens do not eat enough vegetables while 73 per cent exceed the recommended limits of sugar intake for each day.

Around 70 per cent consume less than 100g of fruit (the equivalent of one small apple) and 91 per cent eat less than 200g of vegetables.

Additionally, most eat more than the recommended daily amount of potatoes and poultry.

Dr Ankita Gupta from the University of Birmingham, a lead author of the study, said governments and dietary guidelines need to acknowledge that a third of adolescents in the UK are overweight or obese.

Policy makers should “consider interventions that focus on transforming food systems, changing food policy and supporting diets that benefit both young people’s health and the planet”, Dr Gupta said.

“For many young people living in the UK and other western countries, eating according to the planetary health diet will entail a major change, and it will take time to change our eating habits.

“Schools are where children spend most of their time, making this a crucial setting for programmes, strategies, and policies that alter the food environment by shaping the choices available and the options they choose.

“We tend to stick to the dietary habits we develop as children.”

In January, the UK government added a new feature to its NHS Food Scanner App which aims to help families maintain healthier diets. Users can scan barcode products from their shop, and the app will suggest healthier alternatives.

It follows an October 2021 consumer poll, conducted by the Food Standards Agency, found that almost two thirds of consumers would like to make their diet more healthy (63 per cent) and more sustainable (54 per cent).

However, more than 70 per cent could identify at least one barrier that stopped them.

The most commonly reported barriers were the cost of healthier and more sustainable foods, difficulties forming healthier habits and not understanding what is and isn’t sustainable.

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