Irish teenagers are not getting adequate quantities of important nutrients in their diets, with a significant number missing out on their recommended daily intake of calcium (51 per cent ) and vitamin D (94 per cent ), research has found.
The new study from the Irish Universities Nutritional Alliance (IUNA ), which reported on the dietary intakes of 428 Irish teenagers aged 13 to 18 years, also found inadequate intakes of other nutrients, including vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin A.
Milk and yogurt were the highest contributors of calcium and riboflavin in the diet, contributing 27 per cent and 22 per cent of intakes respectively. This food group also contributed to 11 per cent of vitamin D, 19 per cent of vitamin A, 12 per cent of protein, and six per cent of vitamin B6 intakes. However, despite the valuable role that milk plays in providing a range of important nutrients, milk consumption has dropped since the previous teens’ food survey, published in 2008. This decrease was reflected in the worrying nutrient intakes.
Today’s teenagers have a daily intake of just under one serving of milk, consumed mainly as whole milk and as a beverage or with breakfast cereal. Cheese and yogurt intakes remained similar to that reported in 2008, although average serving sizes also fall short of the recommendations.
"It is important that teenagers consume a healthy, balanced, diet in order to support this rapid phase of growth and development," said lead researcher on the study, Dr Janette Walton from Munster Technological University.
"We were particularly concerned to see such high levels of inadequate intakes of key bone health nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Our calcium needs are at their highest between the ages of nine and 18 years as we lay down our bone mass, with vitamin D needed to absorb calcium. Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D during the teenage years is essential, therefore, to help our bodies to build the strongest bones they possibly can."
Due to additional calcium requirements during the teenage years, the Department of Health’s Healthy Eating Guidelines recommend five servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group for those aged nine to 18 years, with three servings recommended at the other stages of life. Serving examples include 200ml of milk, 125g of yogurt, or 25g of cheese.
You can find the full report of the National Teen’s Food Survey at www.iuna.net
For information on nutrition for teenagers, you can visit www.healthfest.ie, explore the NDC’s interactive course on nutrition for teenagers at www.ndc.ie/nutrition-and-you, or download the free booklet Nutrition & You: Teenagers at www.ndc.ie/publications