Teens and Junk Food – Are There Consequences?

Junk food is now everywhere on our planet. We see it no matter where we go. It is generally defined as a high-calorie food that is low in nutritional value. It is now available in the most unlikely places — on cruise ships, in museums and art galleries, in school hallway vending machines, in city parks and city “green spaces.” Plus it is in the common and plentiful grocery stores, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Being tempted by it several times a day is inescapable for most of us.

Between the ages of 12 and 18 years old critical growth, bone building and amassing of nutrients like calcium is taking place. Your grandchild’s body will never be as efficient at performing those functions to ensure a healthy future as it is while they are teens. Do you know the effects of eating large amounts of junk food on a teen’s daily diet? Here are just a few:

♦ Teens have more control over how they spend money than your younger grandchildren. After filling up on junk food, they will have less of an appetite for the next nutritious main meal. Consuming large amounts of calories from junk food makes it unlikely your grandteens are taking in all of the nutrients necessary for growth and development that they need. Key nutrients during the teen years such as calcium from dairy and protein from meats help bones and muscles strengthen and grow.

♦ Teens who don’t consume enough of the needed nutrients tend to feel fatigued. This can lead to poor concentration and test performance. Instead, encourage eating “brain foods” like whole grains, fruits and vegetables and dairy foods that are rich in vitamin D and calcium.

Weight gain is often a consequence to teens who regularly consume high-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie junk food. Unfortunately, individuals who become overweight or obese during adolescence are unlikely to maintain a healthy weight later in life. Overweight and obesity during adolescence is associated with many poor adult health consequences such as heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, poor self esteem and even cancer. By encouraging healthy food choices during the teen years, you can give your teen grandchild a higher chance of a healthy adult life.

Now that you’ve got the facts about junk food, how can you help your teen grandchild to eat more healthfully in our junk-food-filled world? Here are three tips:

◊ Choose fast-food restaurants that offer healthier choices. And no matter where you are, opt for food and beverages that are made up mostly of ingredients that offer nutrients along with calories. Enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice or a whole-wheat bagel instead of soda or donuts. Buy a bean burrito, pizza topped with vegetables, or a grilled chicken sandwich on a whole-grain bun instead of tortilla chips with processed cheese sauce; frozen pizza rolls; or fried chicken pieces and French fries. Avoid sweetened beverages.

◊ Look for products low in sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined grains, and partially hydrogenated oils. Choose a 100% whole-wheat cracker made with canola oil, for example, or snack on a cheese and fruit plate instead of a bowl of cheese puffs.

◊ Limit TV viewing, for yourself and your kids. Certain TV shows seem to attract more junk food commercials more than others, so you might want to discourage your grandkids from watching these shows. Or try TIVO (where you can fast-forward through commercials) or watch DVDs.

Links for more info:

 Teen Health and the Media – Body Image and Nutrition:

http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage

WebMD – Junk-Food Facts:

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/junk-food-facts

Kids Health Club – Junk Food and Teens:

http://www.kidshealthclub.com/magazine/2012/02/13/junk-food-and-teens/

Janice Wade-Miller is a nutrition educator in Tallahassee, Florida. She has earned her bachelors and masters degrees in Food and Nutrition from Florida State University. In her role as a health educator, she has assisted all age groups, from young children to senior citizens in learning about good nutrition, health and food safety. Her email address is jmiller@iamforkids.org.

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