CDC: Teens Don't Eat Enough Fruits and Veggies

Study Shows U.S. Teens Eat Fruits and Veggies an Average of 1.2 Times a Day

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 23, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 23, 2011 -- Many American teenagers may be eating fewer fruits and vegetables each day than nationwide guidelines recommend for this age group, a CDC report suggests.

In 2010, about one in four high school students ate fruit less than once a day, and one in three didn't eat vegetables more than once a day.

Although diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help control weight and are also linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases and some cancers, most teens are falling short of the recommended daily levels.

To find out how much produce teenagers were typically eating, the CDC reviewed data from the 2010 National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study.

For this study, students attending both public and private high schools across the country were asked to complete a survey describing the kinds of fruits and vegetables they had eaten in the last week and how often they had them.

The survey of 10,765 high school students showed that teens ate both fruits and vegetables an average of 1.2 times a day. Researchers say that's likely to mean that they're eating much less than the 1.5 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables for girls, and 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables for boys that dietary guidelines advise for many kids this age who participate in less than 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

Teens involved in sports are encouraged to get even higher amounts of these good-for-you foods.

Increasing Fruits and Vegetables

Researchers found that certain groups were leaving fruits and vegetables off their plates more often than others.

Hispanic teens and non-Hispanic black students ate the least amount of vegetables each day, while non-Hispanic whites ate a little more. On average, fruit was eaten slightly more often by boys (1.4 times a day) than by girls 1.2 times a day.

Few students gave fruits and veggies much love: Nearly 17% of teens ate fruits four or more times a day and roughly 11% of them ate vegetables this often.

Since fruits and vegetables aren't frequently part of teenager's meals, the report calls for more effective strategies to boost their consumption.

To improve teens' interest in these healthy foods, it is recommended that more school cafeterias offer salad bars and that school breakfast and lunch programs regularly include fruits and vegetables that students may not get a chance to taste at home.

Farm-to-school programs can also give students access to fresh-picked produce at meals. And school gardens can teach teens where foods come from and involve them in their preparation.

Communities can encourage food growers to host more farmers markets in their neighborhoods and work with grocery stores to keep seasonal produce on their shelves at affordable prices.

The report appears in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for Nov. 25.