ADOLESCENTS’ DIETARY HABITS
This fact sheet presents highlights from the international report
of the 2013/2014 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children
(HBSC) survey. HBSC, a WHO collaborative cross-national study,
asks boys and girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years about their health and
well-being, social environments and health behaviours every four
years. The 2013/2014 survey was conducted in 42 countries and
regions across the WHO European Region and North America.
Eating a balanced and varied diet and establishing healthy eating habits promotes
young people’s health, growth and intellectual development across the lifecourse.
Most notably, a healthy diet and body weight reduces the risk of ill health
and premature death from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
A healthy diet can have a significant effect on many of adolescents’ main
concerns by contributing to maintaining a healthy weight, improving physical
and intellectual performance, optimizing growth and improving skin health. An
unbalanced diet with a reliance on energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods is an important
factor in the current epidemic of obesity and NCDs. WHO guidance to Member
States on healthy diets encourages all people, but particularly adolescents, to eat
less food that is high in calories, fats, free sugars or salt/sodium, and more fruit,
vegetables and dietary fibre, such as whole grains.
Some diet-related behaviours are particularly important during adolescence.
Regularly eating breakfast, for example, is thought to reduce snacking
and consumption of energy-rich foods. It also increases intake of essential
micronutrients, including iron, calcium and vitamins C, B and D, and fibre.
Skipping breakfast remains very common among young people in Europe,
however, and is associated with other unhealthy behaviours such as smoking,
alcohol consumption and sedentary behaviours.
Some food groups are hugely important during adolescence. Fruit and vegetable
consumption during childhood is linked to many positive short- and longterm
health outcomes, with a well established decreased risk of NCDs such as
cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer in adulthood. Most countries
recommend the consumption of five or more portions (> 400 g) of fruit and
vegetables a day, but adolescents in many eat far fewer. Food preferences and
eating habits established in adolescence tend to be maintained into adulthood,
which makes increasing fruit consumption among children and adolescents an
important public health issue.
Certain types of foods and drinks should be limited to special occasions and are not suitable in the context of a healthy
diet. Soft-drinks intake is higher among adolescents than in other age groups and is a matter of concern. Soft drinks with
added sugar are associated with a greater risk of weight gain, obesity and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and
type 2 diabetes. Research shows that children with the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to be
overweight or obese than those with low intakes. Consumption can also directly increase the risk of dental caries (commonly
known as tooth decay). Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are the main source of free sugars in children and adolescents’ diets.
Taking regular meals as a family is associated with healthier diets for adolescents, providing an opportunity for parents to
offer healthy choices and present an example of healthy eating.