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Poor Diet Quality in Adolescence Linked to Lifelong Health Risks

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In recent years, the quality of diet among adolescents in the United States has become a growing concern. A study published by Elsevier highlights the alarming implications of poor dietary habits in young people. 

The research reveals serious risks that adolescents face due to inadequate nutrition, including heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

Diet quality of adolescents

“Diets high in energy, fat, and refined carbohydrates and low in fruits, vegetables, and fiber are cross-sectionally associated with higher cardiometabolic risk factors and higher adiposity in adolescence,” wrote the study authors.

“Unfortunately, these poor dietary patterns are relatively reflective of the current US patterns among youth. The diet quality of adolescents is among the worst across all age groups in the US; preventing the risk of chronic disease through improving diet patterns is an area of great need.”

Focus of the study

The researchers used the Healthy Eating Index-2015, a tool designed to assess diet quality, in conjunction with medical testing. The focus was on adolescents who were 10 to 16 years old. 

The team analyzed data from the Translational Investigation of Growth and Everyday Routine in Kids (TIGER Kids) cohort. This cohort provided crucial insights into the lifestyle of youths in Louisiana’s metropolitan areas, which are often medically underserved, poverty-stricken, and grappling with issues like food insecurity, obesity, and related diseases.

Targets for future interventions 

Participants in the study contributed baseline data, with follow-up measures taken two years later. This longitudinal approach offered a clear view of dietary patterns and their evolution over time.

“Examining the data related to diet quality may help identify targets for future interventions in families, homes, and communities. Effective and timely interventions focusing on adherence to dietary guidelines are necessary for improving diet quality and reducing health risks,” explained study co-author Dr. Amanda E. Staiano of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

Crucial insights

Of the 342 adolescents initially enrolled, 192 provided complete data for both the baseline and follow-up stages. These participants underwent various assessments, including wearing accelerometers, completing dietary recalls, and taking medical tests.

The study revealed that adolescents who displayed poor adherence to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans often continued these unhealthy eating patterns over the two-year period. This consistency suggests that the detrimental effects of a poor-quality diet were not only present but also likely to pose ongoing health risks throughout their lives.

Study implications

The implications of this research are far-reaching. With the established link between poor diet quality and serious health risks, there is an urgent need for interventions targeting young people’s dietary habits.

“This study found specific dietary quality patterns associated with adolescent cardiometabolic risk factors,” said Dr. Staiano. “Promotion of nutrition knowledge is necessary, but knowledge is not consistently linked with food consumption behavior. Identifying barriers to consuming a healthful diet and investigating effective strategies to overcome these barriers may curtail future health risks.”

The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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Schedule28 May 2024