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.
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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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.
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