More than 91m school children worldwide are living with obesity – and the UK is in the top 20 countries. Here, the obesity rate for children increases 2x during primary school years – and then increases again in secondary school.
Uk teenagers have a low-quality diet. Their diet is low in nutrients and high in processed foods.
They also have the highest amount of sugars compared to all other age groups and consume the highest amount of breakfast cereal products and confectionery. Research also shows that teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds have lower fibre and micro-nutrient intake compared to their more well-off peers.
This not only has a negative consequence on their physical health but also impacts their mental health. Malnourished teenagers are less likely to fulfil their potential at school, and more likely to suffer from poor mental health.
Why the poor choices?
the transition to secondary school and coincides with brain changes that occur with puberty and can influence attitudes and behaviours in all areas. Liking healthy food can be seen as “uncool” by teens and the desire to fit in is intense. The social time within the school day is highly important for young people. There are long queues and a lack of perceived privacy in school canteens. This can lead to teenagers skipping lunch and getting most of their energy intake at morning break or at the end of the school day from local food outlets.
Time to act
Research has shown that eating habits picked up in youth, tend to track into adulthood. This makes the teenage years an important stage to start forming healthy habits. So more needs to be done to enable young people to make healthier choices rather than simply placing the full responsibility of food choice on them.