How healthy are our teens really?

My experience as a food and nutrition teacher and researcher brings me so close to the views of our teens on a daily basis. Being a mum and having had my own confusion with health and food as a teen, has brought out so much passion for me to support the change in this particular age group.

Nutrition is a large part of wellbeing, and my book ‘Nourish your teens, mind, body and soul’ has a parental and guiding focus on encouraging our children to value themselves and to nourish their minds and bodies. We know that a whole foods Mediterranean diet for teens has been shown to reduce the risk of depression and that a well-nourished person feels good.

Recently, the data published from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) taken over 2 years (2014-2016) highlights concerns for our amazing teens, our future parents and leaders. I feel that the mass convenience culture and the loss of valuing ourselves and nutrition have had a negative impact on our children and that they are the real victims here.

How much sugar are teens consuming?

The good news is that teenagers are eating less free sugars (added sugar in the form of biscuits, cakes, drinks etc.) than the previous data set, however, teens are still consuming more free sugars than any other age group. The advised amount is 5% of total energy per day, and young people aged 11-18 years are consuming 14% of their total energy as sugars (adults 11%). A diet high in free sugars is linked to tooth decay, obesity and diabetes type 2, not to mention malnutrition linked to so many health problems.

What about ‘5 a day’?

Grandparents are consuming the highest number of fruits and veggies, achieving 4.3 portions per day, closely followed by 4.2 portions on average per day for adults. Sadly, our teens are struggling, only reaching 2.7 portions per day. This is having such a negative impact on our adolescent’s fibre intake. Dietary fibre intake is at its lowest in a while and this is a huge concern as a low fibre intake is associated with heightened risk of some cancers, heart disease and poor digestive health.

Are teenagers getting the micronutrients they need for good health?

The answer to this question for the whole population as an average taken from the NDNS is NO!

54% of girls 11 -18 year olds are not meeting the minimum intake of Iron and results from blood samples showed that 9% have low iron status or anaemia and 28% low in blood folate. This has such implications for our future generations. Also, 26% have low vitamin D status which is a problem for bone health and risk of depression. Potassium, calcium, zinc and Iodine are lower than recommended and so the statistics speak for themselves, our teens need to be nourished.

Nourish your teen

Young people do not see how important it is for them to be well nourished, they literally put their health in our hands. They trust that someone else has their back, and many have voiced their thoughts that ‘how can junk foods be that bad’ if everyone is selling and marketing to their age group.

We have to support our teens in becoming savvy consumers navigating the food and drink industry, and what is real nourishment. Create an environment that allows adolescents to learn to cook with fresh ingredients, to see and consume the colours that nature gave to us. It may sound controversial to some, but get rid of that biscuit/chocolate drawer, don’t ban any of these foods of course, but don’t give them the attention, and just enjoy them as the treats they are, a few times a week. The teens in my school think it is strange that anyone would not consume at least one sugary snack a day. This is scary and a ‘norm’ that in my opinion can be changed and will have such a positive impact on our teens health.

Help your teen choose wholegrain options, get those veggies into the dishes you make e.g. chillies, curries, spaghetti bolognese, soups etc. Try to mix wholewheat/spelt spaghetti with plain or brown with white until your teen gets used to the high fibre options. There are lots of recipes in my recipe book which you can download from next week as an addition to the example food plans in ‘Nourish your teens, mind, body and soul’.


Lots of love and health,

Kelly x