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Teen Nutrition

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Teen Nutrition: Helping Teens Make Healthy Choices

By Laura Wilford
Special to the Journal Sentinel

April 25, 1999


Did you know:
Obesity is fast becoming an epidemic in the United States and no group has been hit harder than America's children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 14 percent of children between the ages of six and 11 are overweight (1988 to 1994). That is a six percent increase over the 1976 to 1980 period. The percentage of teenagers (ages 12 to 17) who are overweight increase by six percent (1976 to 1980) to 11 percent (1988 to 1994).

One cause, soft drinks, offer unlimited choices to today's teenagers. Convenience stores, school vending machines, fast food restaurants, mall food courts and home refrigerators are jammed with sports drinks, bottled water, fruit drinks, regular soda, diet soda and bottled iced tea.

Fruit juice and milk? They've been pushed to a back corner of the refrigerator.

Over the last two decades, beverage consumption ratios among teens have reversed. Twenty years ago, teenage boys consumed twice as much milk as they did soda, and girls consumed 50% more milk than soda.

Today, girls and boys generally are drinking twice as much soda as milk. Young Women who are heavy soda drinkers may be putting themselves at risk for developing brittle bones as they grow older, according to the results of a new study. While experts have suspected a link between soft drinks and reduced bone density, researchers from Tufts University believe that the phosphoric acid found in cola drinks may be the cause.

According to USDA data, the average 13- to 18-year-old boy drinks more than two 12-ounce cans per day, while the average girl consumes more than 1 3/4 cans. Heavy soda drinkers are four times more likely to drink fewer than eight ounces of milk daily, compared with light and non-soda-drinking teenagers.

Further, 62% of teens regularly consume non-carbonated soft drinks such as tea, flavored water and sport drinks.

It's no secret that these years are critical for teens to consume calcium. During adolescence, 15% of adult height, 50% of adult body weight and 45% of adult skeletal mass are gained. According to USDA figures, 9 of 10 teen girls and 7 of 10 boys fail to meet calcium recommendations, newly set at 1,300 milligrams per day or about 4 servings of dairy products.

Lack of calcium can set the stage for osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life. Research also indicates that calcium plays a role in preventing other chronic diseases including high blood pressure, kidney stones and some forms of cancer.

At the same time, it's probably no coincidence that adolescent obesity has risen parallel to soft drink consumption over the past two decades. Soft drinks provide teens on average with with 15% to 20% of their daily calories. Overweight teens consume a larger proportion of their calories from soft drinks than do other teens. One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Cause of Increased Soda Consumption


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