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A Stim To Good Nutrition Essay, Research Paper


Envision an elderly woman who is very weak, frail, and sickly looking. She cannot take part in normal daily activities, due to her ailment. She has very thin hair, skin, and nails. This woman appears to have aged physically beyond her years. She cannot enjoy the hobbies that she has in the past, because of the lack of muscle strength and bone density. The majority of her day is spent lying in bed watching television, only getting up when totally necessary to avoid pain and suffering. The cause of this woman?s pitiful predicament is her dietary habits. She does not get the proper vitamins and minerals, nor does she practice normal eating patterns (skips meals) which can deter the body to carry out its normal daily functions. An insufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates, calories, fat, and vitamins and minerals can cause the body to shut down. Just as a car needs gasoline to run, the human body needs proper nutrients to function. This situation could have been avoided if this woman had been educated properly during her younger years.

Nutritional Requirements

Good nutrition is important at any age, but especially during adolescence. During this

time span from age ten to fifteen for girls and age twelve to nineteen for boys, children?s height

increases, hormones change, and activities increase (Trends, web). Following the Food Guide Pyramid is the best way to ensure all needed nutrients are obtained. People should eat 6 to 11 servings from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group; 2 to 4 servings from the fruit group; 3 to 5 servings from the vegetable group; 2 to 3 servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese group; 2 to 4 servings from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts group; and use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly (Anspaugh, 34). Along with following the Food Guide Pyramid (see figure 1), teenagers need a greater amount of calcium for bone growth, strengthening, and to prevent osteoporosis later in life. All adolescents need more iron; girls experience the onset of menstruation and boys have an increase in lean mass (Trends, web). Caloric needs vary for each child depending on amount of growth, physical activities, and level of maturation (Backgrouder, web).

Figure 1

Eating Patterns

The average teen diet consists of large amounts of fast food, snacks high in fat, few vegetable and fruits, and even skipping meals (Casey, 931). A recent study at Louisiana State University published in the News-Star stated, ?potato chips and French fries make up more than one-quarter of the vegetable servings eaten by children, and nearly one-third of the veggies eaten by teenagers (New Orleans, 5A).? The US Department of Agriculture?s Healthy Eating Index shows that today?s adolescent diet ?needs improvement? and that the overall HEI score declines as a child matures to an adult. The US Department of Agriculture also reports the increase in liquid calories consumed because soft drinks are replacing milk in many diets (Evers, 20). Another important factor is the rising number of teen vegetarians who may not get enough of the important vitamins and minerals needed during this growth phase. Calcium, protein, and iron are often lacking from a vegetarian diet and may not be added through intake of dietary supplements (Trends, web). Fast food and eating out contributes greatly to the decline in nutritious content of the average teen diet. Also, the proper number of meals a day should be maintained by all ages to remain healthy (see figure 2).

This table shows approximately how many servings of nonfat, lean foods are needed for three different calorie levels (1,600, 2,200, and 2,800 calories).




Milk & Milk Products Group? 2 to 4 2 to 4 2 to 4

Meat & Meat Alternatives Group 2 2 3

Vegetable Group 3 4 5

Fruit Group 2 3 4

Bread & Cereal Group 6 9 11

Total Fat (grams)? 36 to 53 49 to 73 62 to 93

Table 1

Over the past 40 years, fast food has appeared everywhere, from stores and airports to athletic events and schools. In 1997, the United States spent $100 billion consuming fast food (Schlosser, web). According to an article in Rolling Stone Magazine, ?Americans now spend more money on fast food than they do on higher education, personal computers, software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music combined (Schlosser, web).? In fact, 96% of American children most easily identified Santa Claus first and Ronald McDonald second. In this fast-paced world, not only does fast food take the place of healthy meals, but sometimes meals like breakfast are not eaten at all (Schlosser, web).

For whatever reason people skip breakfast, we should consider why breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. A study of 504 young adults in Bogalusa, LA yielded results of the prevalence of skipping breakfast and the consequences. Thirty-seven percent of the subjects did not eat breakfast, making them two to five times more likely to have a nutrient deficient diet. The adolescents who skipped breakfast had less energy, protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral intakes compared to those who ate in the morning. Also, of those who did not eat breakfast, 66% ate a snack before lunch, compared to 49% of breakfast eaters who snacked before lunch (New Orleans, 5A).

Influences on Eating Habits

Research from 141 students in the seventh and tenth grades in St. Paul, Minnesota, showed interesting results when teens were asked to explain their eating habits. The most frequently discussed factors influencing what the subjects ate included: hunger, taste and appearance of food choices, and picking foods by their preparation time. When asked why they were not eating a balanced diet, some students expressed their lack of concern for future health problems. Another common explanation was that junk foods taste better than healthy foods. Still others said that fruits and vegetables are not convenient because many have to be peeled or cooked and were not available in places like fast food restaurants, school vending machines, and at home. The students also added that fast food is a cheap and easy way to eat (Casey, 931).

Another major factor influencing the eating habits of adolescents is advertising. Each day the average child sees more than 82 television commercials, many advertising trendy or quick but not nutritious foods and drinks. The eating habits of today?s teens are reflective of the messages they receive through advertising. Even the advertising in some schools does not consist of healthy snacks and meals. Schools are also a great place to teach children of all ages to understand advertising strategies so they will know why these companies want to make their product look so appealing (Evers, 22). Marion Nestle, chairwoman for the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at New York State University stated, ?manufacturers are paying large sums of money and getting lots of advertising inside schools. They are pushing aside better nutritional choices such as milk or fruit juice (Condor, 1B).?

Consequences of Unhealthy Eating

Today?s teens face many peer pressures and strive to look like the stars and models in

magazines and on television and movies. Because of society?s stereotype that everyone should be thin, there is an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents. The National Center for Health Statistics states that 100 females between the ages of 12 and 18 has anorexia nervosa. This is a disease caused by dramatically limiting food intake. Aside from anorexia, another common eating disorder is bulimia. Characteristics of this eating disorder include episodes of overeating usually followed by periods of guilt and depression often relieved by vomiting. Contrary to popular belief, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are not limited to females, five to ten percent of all eating disorders occur males (Beason, 2B). Many adolescents with eating disorders may claim they are simply dieting or trying to control their weight (Trends, web). Figure 3 shows a chart of weight guidelines.

Height/Weight Guidelines


low midpoint high low midpoint high

4′10″ 100 115 131 5′1″ 123 134 145

4′11″ 101 117 134 5′2″ 125 137 148

5′0″ 103 120 137 5′3″ 127 139 151

5′1″ 105 122 140 5′4″ 129 142 155

5′2″ 108 125 144 5′5″ 131 145 159

5′3″ 111 128 148 5′6″ 133 148 163

5′4″ 114 133 152 5″7″ 135 151 167

5′5″ 117 136 156 5′8″ 137 154 171

5′6″ 120 140 160 5′9″ 139 157 175

5′7″ 123 143 164 5′10″ 141 160 179

5′8″ 126 146 167 5′11″ 144 164 183

5′9″ 129 150 170 6′0″ 147 167 187

5′10″ 132 153 173 6′1″ 150 171 192

5′11″ 135 156 176 6′2″ 153 175 197

6′0″ 138 159 179 6′3″ 157 179 202

Table 2

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey questioned adolescents in grades nine through twelve

across the nation and found that 59% of females and 23% of males use dieting or other methods

to lose weight. Other research from the Minnesota Adolescent Survey questioned 34,000

students in grades seven through twelve about their dieting habits. Twelve percent of the females and two percent of the males admitted to dieting at least ten times per year. Thirty percent of females and thirteen percent of males claimed they participated in binge eating. Results from these surveys and many others demonstrate the high percentages of adolescents with unhealthy eating habits (Neumark, 447).

Other researchers questioned if adolescents understood certain words relating to eating,

and decided to explore teens? interpretations of the terms ?dieting? and ?binge eating.? They

surveyed 203 adolescents in 25 focus groups and asked them to define these terms and explain

how they related to their lives. The results showed the majority of groups explained dieting as a

term used for healthy eating habits. Half of the groups described dieting as unhealthy eating

behaviors such as skipping meals and starvation. Half of the groups also said dieting was used as

a method of weight loss. When the groups were asked to define binge eating, most of them

related this term to overeating. Some of the groups differentiated binge eating from general

overeating by type of food consumed. To these students, binge eating meant taking in junk food

while overeating was considered eating too many healthy foods. One-fifth of the groups defined

binge eating as overeating when not hungry or eating because of boredom. Nearly half of the

groups related binge eating to excessive eating followed by vomiting. Overall, the results showed the uncertainty of whether dieting is positive or negative and exactly what binge eating means among today?s adolescents (Neumark, 448).

Improvements in Adolescent Nutrition

According to the American Dietetic Association, during the last twenty-five years, the

United States passed laws to ?provide adequate food and nutrition for the nation?s children and

adolescents (Caton, web).? While great strides have been made, more improvements must be added to increase healthy eating among this age group. In 1946, the National School Lunch Program stated that a healthy lunch must include two ounces of protein, six ounces of vegetables and or fruits, bread and butter, and one-half pint of whole milk. The School Breakfast Program started by the Child Nutrition Act in 1966 helps more children receive a nutritious breakfast (Beech, 1433). By 1977, legislators acknowledged the need for more advanced programs like the Nutrition and Education Training Programs (Casey, 933). In 1990, the National Food Service Management Institute began providing information on nutrition and training to further educate people about healthy eating (National, web). Revisions by the Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act in 1994 stated that the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Programs must meet the American Dietary Guidelines to ensure a balanced diet. Recently in 1995, School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children updated nutritional standards to provide a variety of menus for schools (US, web). Aside from legislation to improve children?s nutrition, schools are the best place to develop a good foundation for healthy eating habits.

Americans send their children to school to be educated not just in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in all areas. Since schools are the primary place of education, children should learn about nutrition associated with daily eating, promoting health, and preventing diseases. Dietetic professionals at schools can also assess students? eating habits as well as their risks for certain diseases (Identifying, web). Schools need qualified professionals to educate administrators, teachers, coaches, staff, children, and parents about the importance of good nutrition. Team Nutrition, a USDA program, can be implemented in schools to educate both children and parents. As part of this program, professionals trained in nutrition help participants learn healthy eating habits through interactive games (Position, web). Dietitians can also teach teens the facts and myths associated with a healthy diet as well as how to read food labels and interpret their meaning (Borra, 817). This type of education should begin in elementary school so children can develop good habits early in life (Student, 9). Children can be taught early to understand nutrition and exercise to ensure future health (Student, 9). Because the percentage of overweight American teens continues to rise from 21% in 1994, nutritional education should also include safe and healthy ways to lose extra weight (Backgrounder, web). An easy way to teach teenagers about nutrition and healthy eating is to learn the American Dietetic Association?s healthy weight management acronym – CHANGE:

 Count out crash diets or quick weight-loss schemes.

 Have patience in losing a half pound to one pound per week.

 Always drink plenty of water or other fluids.

 Never skip meals in efforts to lose weight.

 Get up and go, increase your physical activity.

 Eat a variety of foods (18).

Along with daily healthy eating habits and weight control, nutritional education should include healthy snacking as a major focal point.

Snacking can be a healthy and important part of a young person?s life. One important factor to remember is that snacking should not be used as a substitute for eating healthy meals, but for an extra amount of energy and nutrition (Trends, web). Children can not consume large amounts of food at one time, so they get hungry between meals. If adolescents are extremely active they may need extra energy for good performance during activities (Backgrounder, web). Wellness Director at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Treina Landrum, told the News-Star that ?teens need to consider their total daily food intake. Teens with early lunch breaks or after school activities may have a long wait between lunch and supper. They?ll need fuel to keep their energy up? (Tucker, 1B). The News-Star published a different article with ideas for healthy snacks. With a little creativity, kids can have fun eating healthy alternatives to junk food. It also stated that parents should buy the types of food they want their kids to eat – if junk food is not available, the kids can not eat it (Martinez, 3B). Another article published in the News-Star titled, ?Snacking Doesn?t Mean Unhealthy Eating? offered some tips to parents with children who snack between meals:

 Give snacks in small servings, not an entire box.

 Save uneaten food from a meal for a snack later.

 Make home-made snacks with less fat by substituting fatty ingredients with more healthy ones.

 Offer fruits and vegetables as snacks instead of cookies and candy (Beason, 2B).


Nutrition relates to all aspects of life and should be integrated into everyone?s daily agenda. Although nutrition may not be a focal point for today?s teenagers, it should be. Children and adolescents with poor eating behaviors grow to be adults with the same eating problems. These unhealthy eating habits can turn deadly if they progress to an eating disorder and are untreated. If taught at an early age, children can develop healthy habits and make wise decisions for themselves. Ignorance is one of the reasons many people, even in today?s modern society, have unhealthy behaviors. Education is the answer to raising a smart and healthy future for our nation.

1. Anspaugh, D., et al. (1997). Wellness: concepts and applications. New York: McGraw-Hill.

2. Backgrounder – child/adolescent nutrition & health. (1998, August). http://www.ificinfo.health.org/index3.htm.

3. Beason, H. (1999, September 1). Snacking doesn?t mean unhealthy eating. News- Star, p. 2B.

4. Beech, B., et al. (1998, December). Impact of breakfast consumption on nutritional adequacy of the diets of young adults in Bogalusa, Louisiana: ethnic and gender constrasts. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98, 1432-1437.

5. Borra, S., et al. (1995). Food, physical activity, and fun: inspiring America?s kids to more healthy lifestyles. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 95, 816- 818, http://parentingteens.miningco.com/index.htm.

6. Casey, M., et al. (1999, August). Factors influencing food choices of adolescents: findings from focus groups discussions with adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99 (8), 929-934.

7. Caton, J. (1990). The history of the American school food service association: a pinch of love. The American Food Service Association, http://parentingteens.miningco.com/index.htm.

8. Condor, B. (1999, August 24). When it comes to sugar, news is hard to swallow. News-Star, p. 1B.

9. Evers, C. (1999, August). Growing smart consumers. School Food Service & Nutrition, 19-20, 22.

10. Identifying patients at risk: ADA?s definitions for nutrition screening and nutrition assessment. (1994). Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 94, 838-839, http://parentingteens.miningco.com/index.htm.

11. Martinez, M. (1999, August 25). After-school snacks can be healthy and appealing to kids. News-Star, p. 3B.

12. National Health/Education Consortium. (1993). Eat to learn, learn to eat: the link between nutrition and learning in children, http://parentingteens.miningco.com/index.htm.

13. Neumark-Sztainer, D. & Story, M. (1998, April). Dieting and binge eating among adolescents: what do they really mean? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98 (4), 446-449.

14. New Orleans Associated Press. (1999, September 6). LSU study: French fries, chips are one-third of teen?s veggies. News-Star, p. 5A.

15. Position of ADA, SNE, and ASFSA. (1995). School-based nutrition programs and services. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 95, 367-369, http://parentingteens.miningco.com/index.htm.

16. Schlosser, E. (1998, September 3). Fast food nation: the true cost of America?s diet. Rolling Stone, http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/press/rollingstone1.html.

17. Student nutrition survey. (1999, September). School Food Service & Nutrition, 53, (8), 9.

18. Trends in teen nutrition. http://ificinfo.health.org.

19. Tucker, L. (1999, September 15). Snack attack: give teens healthy alternatives for cravings between meals. News-Star, p. 1B.

20. US Department of Agriculture. (1995). Final regulation: school meals initiative for healthy children, http://parentingteen.miningco.com/index.htm.

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