High School Students Still Don’t Eat Enough Fruits or Vegetables

In news unlikely to be shocking to any parent of a high school student, too many have continued to eschew fruits and vegetables, a new analysis shows.



a person sitting at a table eating food: STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT - SEPTEMBER 08: A student prepares lunch in the cafeteria during the first day of school at Stamford High School on September 08, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts nationwide delayed the first day of school until after the Labor Day weekend. Stamford Public Schools started the semester with a hybrid model, which includes in-class learning every other day. Many families, however, chose the distance learning option due to fears of COVID-19 transmission between students. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)


© (John Moore/Getty Images)
STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT – SEPTEMBER 08: A student prepares lunch in the cafeteria during the first day of school at Stamford High School on September 08, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school districts nationwide delayed the first day of school until after the Labor Day weekend. Stamford Public Schools started the semester with a hybrid model, which includes in-class learning every other day. Many families, however, chose the distance learning option due to fears of COVID-19 transmission between students. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture call for a minimum intake of 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables for girls 14 to 18 years old and 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables for boys the same age.

But most aren’t having it, the analysis released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Shows. In 2017, only 7.1% of high school students nationally met the recommended intake for fruits and 2% met the recommended intake for vegetables, the report’s estimates show.

To arrive at their estimates and update previous data from 2013, researchers examined data from 2017 national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys – which are self-reported, anonymous surveys administered in schools – and found not much has changed. The report says 8.5% of high school students met the recommended intake for fruit in 2013, while 2.1% met the recommended intake for vegetables.

Among the 33 states with estimates included in the analysis, results varied, though none saw a share of at least 10% that met recommendations for either category. In Connecticut, for example, only 4% of high school students met the recommended fruit intake, whereas on the high end, 9.3% of students in Louisiana did.

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a table topped with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables: Vegan diets focus primarily on an abundance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and are often high in fiber. A vegan diet does not include meat or dairy.Collins stresses that making the best food choices still matter while following a vegan diet."People who avoid all animal-based foods, but include frequent use of sweets, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and unhealthy choices of added fats do not show as much reduction in cancer risk as people following a vegan diet who limit these foods and include abundant vegetables, legumes (dry beans, peas, lentils, and soy foods), nuts, and seeds," she says in reference to a 2019 study.In a 2016 U.S. study, compared to non-vegetarians, men following a vegan diet were 35 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer, a 2016 study showed. But evidence is too limited to allow any conclusions about a vegan diet as a specific choice for reducing prostate cancer risk, concluded AICR's Third Expert Report.In the U.S.-based Adventist Health Study 2 in 2016, compared to non-vegetarians, women following a vegan diet showed a trend for lower risk of breast cancer, "but it's possible that the association occurred by chance or related to other influences," Collins says. Again, there is not enough evidence to allow any conclusions about a vegan diet as a specific choice for reducing breast cancer risk, concluded AICR's Third Expert Report.

In Kansas, just 0.6% of students met the recommended vegetable intake, while 3.7% did in New Mexico.

Nationally, high school boys saw a higher share meeting the recommended fruit intake at 9.7% than high school girls at 4.7%. Recommended fruit intake was higher among Black and Hispanic students – at 11.9% and 7.9%, respectively – than among white students at 5.9%. However, researchers said these differences weren’t statistically significant and followed similar patterns in most states. Similar differences were seen for vegetables.

The reasons why young people fall behind in recommended fruit and vegetable intake are complex, researchers said: They may be unable to access healthier foods at home or may opt for inexpensive, unhealthy foods that are widely available. Some simply may not like the taste of fruits or vegetables.

The data released Thursday has some limitations, including that the recommended amounts from USDA are for people who only get under 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise daily, while “active persons should consume more,” the report says. That caveat means the percentages reported of students meeting recommendations may be too high, the report says.

Researchers noted efforts to get teens to eat fruits and vegetables. The National School Lunch Program, for example, includes fruit and vegetable options, yet only 39% of high schoolers nationally participate in the program on average. State and local farm-to-school programs that include cooking classes or taste experiments also acquaint students with healthy foods, while a federally authorized program aims to incentivize low-income consumers to buy fruits and vegetables.

“Consistently low fruit and vegetable intake among adolescents suggests that additional efforts are needed to expand the reach of existing programs or to identify new effective strategies such as communication approaches including social media,” researchers said.

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

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