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Scientific Study on Teens' Diet Announced

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, today welcomed the Scientific Study on Teens' Diet, which was presented at a RELAY organised conference in Dublin. The Minister said that the study would allow the food industry to tailor product development taking on board the research findings. It also provides Irish families with up-to-date information for planning balanced healthy lifestyles.

This scientific study which benchmarks dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish teenagers was carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) at UCD and UCC and was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under the "Food Institutional Research Measure" (FIRM) and co-funded by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). It complements a similar study recently completed for 5-12 year olds. Minister Coughlan said it is the first comprehensive scientific evaluation of dietary intake in teenagers in Ireland and provides direction for the dietary strategies that need to be established to prevent obesity in Irish teenagers. The Minister noted that funding had been awarded under FIRM for a group of third level research projects on developing breads and ready meals with a reduced salt content and she welcomed industry cooperation with this work.

Stressing the contribution of well focused research to policy making, the Minister said that the earlier Scientific Study on Children's Diet had provide an evidence base to support the decision to launch the National "Food Dude" programme to encourage increased consumption of fruit and vegetables by primary schoolchildren, which was run in over 300 primary schools in 2006, and the review and re-launch of the school milk scheme to include a wider range of dairy products.

The study on Teens' Diet surveyed 450 teenagers aged 13-17 years from secondary schools throughout Ireland during 2005 and 2006 and was carried out by researchers in University College, Dublin and University College, Cork. In addition to diet, the study includes direct body measurements on each teenager and provides accurate data on the extent to which the obesity crisis is affecting Irish teenagers. It also included essential information on lifestyle, including physical activity, for both the teenagers and their parents.

According to Professor Albert Flynn, Department of Food & Nutritional Science, University College, Cork, the scientific data provided by this study will be widely used to develop nutrition policy for Ireland and assist in the development of programmes to tackle teenage obesity.

"We need clear guidelines for healthy eating for teens - guidelines that focus on appropriate portion sizes, lower consumption of fat, salt and sugared drinks, and higher intake of vegetables and fruit, fibre, vitamins and minerals. The pyramid model used in Ireland to guide healthy eating, has been completely revised in the US to tackle obesity, and similar revisions need to take place here," says Professor Flynn.

Key findings on food consumption habits in Irish teenagers identified issues that need to be addressed to promote healthy weight, including:

  • Low intakes of fruit and vegetables with average intakes well below international recommendations. One in three teenagers do not consume fruit. (Fruit and vegetables are low in calories, but rich in essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre).
  • Four out of five teenagers are not getting enough dietary fibre (foods that contain fibre are filling, but low in calories. They are useful in the diets of teenagers who are overweight).
  • Overall fat intake is higher than recommended - over 50% of teenagers exceed the recommendations.
  • Daily salt intake is higher than the levels recommended by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland - processed meats and bread are the main salt sources.

The study also found that overweight and obesity in 13-17 year old teenagers is relatively high and is increasing:

  • Since 1990 the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined has increased from 6% to 19% in boys and from 15% to 17% in girls.

Prof. Michael Gibney, Institute of Food and Health, University College, Dublin said that the rise of overweight and obesity in teenagers must be tackled. "It is encouraging that four out of five teens have a healthy body weight. However, the increase in overweight and obesity in this age group highlights the need to identify ways to help teenagers to develop healthy eating and physical activity habits."

Note to Editors

Key findings from the study revealed:

Diet

  • Significant numbers of teenagers have inadequate intakes of calcium, iron, vitamins A, D, and folate (this indicates that the foods contributing to calorie overload are not providing adequate amounts of essential nutrients to ensure Irish teenagers reach their full potential physically and mentally).
  • Average milk consumption is low, at about half a pint per day and is mainly consumed as full fat milk. Consumption of cheese and yoghurt is also low. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich sources of calcium.
  • Essentially all teenagers eat meat; however this is mainly processed rather than fresh meat, which can be lower in iron and have a greater salt and fat content.
  • Daily intake of soft drinks averages about one and a half glasses, mainly sugar containing drinks; daily intake of bottled water averages about half a glass.
  • Calories in the diet are mainly derived from bread and cereals, meats/meat products, confectionery/snacks/biscuits, milk/dairy, and potatoes/potato products.

Physical Activity/Lifestyle and body weight

  • Participation of teenagers in physical activities both in and out of school is relatively high.
  • TV viewing times for many teenagers are high both on weekdays and especially at weekends - one in three spend more than two hours watching TV on weekdays and two in three at weekends.
  • Family influences on body weight of teenagers are substantial - teenagers with overweight/obese parents are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • One in three teenagers have tried to lose weight (one in two girls and one in four boys).
  • Among overweight teens, four out of five girls and two out of five boys wish to be lighter.

Contacts:

Prof. Albert Flynn, University College, Cork. Tel. 021 4901318 / 087 2442044
E-mail: a.flynn@ucc.ie

Dr. Anne Nugent, University College, Dublin. Tel. 01 7167317 / 087 9864415
E-mail: anne.nugent@ucd.ie

RELAY

RELAY is a national dissemination service funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with responsibilities for communicating the results of publicly funded research to the food industry.

Date Released: 24 January 2008