Meat and alcohol instead of fruit and vegetables

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European adolescents eat unhealthy

Most European youth eat extremely unhealthily. Little fruit and vegetables, but lots of meat and sweets determine the daily eating habits of a majority of adolescents, according to the result of the so-called HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescents) study.

With the aim of improving the health of adolescents in Europe in the long term, as part of the HELENA study, the scientists examined the food intake, nutritional knowledge and eating behavior of adolescents at 26 research sites in ten different European countries. In addition to eating habits and preferences, the researchers said the vitamin status, immune function related to nutritional status, and physical activity and fitness of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 13 were examined more closely. The result does not shed light on the lifestyle of European youth.

Origin of illnesses in childhood and adolescence According to the researchers, "most illnesses have their origin in childhood and adolescence", whereby the cornerstone for unhealthy eating habits is often laid in adolescence. These can in turn cause further health complaints later in life. 26 teams of scientists at research sites in Belgium, Germany, France, Greece, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Spain and Hungary analyzed what the eating habits of European adolescents look like and what the health of adolescents is like. The doctors, biochemists, nutritionists, epidemiologists, sports and social scientists involved in the study found that a third of European boys and one in five girls between the ages of 13 and 16 were overweight (body mass index between 25 and 30 ) are to be assessed. According to the HELENA study, six percent of European adolescents are obese.

Adolescents consume too much meat and sweets Looking at the eating habits of most European adolescents also reveals why many of them are struggling with weight problems, the researchers report. Because just over 12 percent of boys and around 16 percent of girls consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day. Instead, meat and sweets are consumed in excess. According to the HELENA study, European adolescents eat an average of 100 grams of vegetables, 125 grams of fruit, 160 grams of meat, 20 grams of fish, 55 grams of sweet baked goods and 25 grams of chocolate a day. The researchers report that 0.73 liters of water and 0.31 liters of soft drinks are drunk. In total, the European adolescents reach 2300 to 3300 calories a day, which in the long term leads to the formation of fat deposits even with a body in growth, according to the results of the HELENA study. The researchers also said that the consumption of sausage and meat was significantly higher than would be recommended from a health point of view. According to the current study, on average only seven percent of the diet of European adolescents consists of plant-based foods.

Excessive alcohol consumption among European adolescents In addition to excessive consumption of meat and sweets, researchers are particularly concerned about alcohol consumption among adolescents. While adolescents tend to be reluctant to eat healthy foods, they really hit hard when it comes to alcoholic beverages. According to the HELENA study, a fifth of the daily fluid intake of European adolescents contains alcohol. Austrian youngsters drink the most alcohol, with half a liter of beer or a quarter liter of wine they drink around twice as much alcoholic beverages as adolescents in other European countries. The researchers also report a particular preference for sweets among Austrian teenagers.

Lack of knowledge about healthy eating In the studies on eating behavior and the design of meals, the researchers found numerous similarities in the different European countries. For example, three main meals and several snacks are held in most European countries. Only the Spaniards are a lonely exception with their five main meals a day as part of the HELENA study. In the scientists' view, it was also striking that when asked about their food preferences, most European young people stated that healthy eating was boring and not particularly tasty. The majority of adolescents were also convinced that healthy foods do not satisfy hunger sufficiently, are too expensive and take too long to prepare. Apparently there are significant gaps in knowledge regarding health-promoting nutrition, according to the scientists. Adolescents are well aware of the importance of nutrition for health, but they lack the knowledge to implement it and the stomach often decides differently than the head.

Exercise to balance unhealthy eating habits
Overall, girls are significantly better off than boys in terms of knowledge about healthy eating habits. But the researchers also see significant deficits in the girls. In general, the adolescents with higher body weights had relatively little knowledge about healthy eating. However, adolescents are apparently hardly aware of their own wrongdoing, because 85 percent of them believe that they eat healthy, according to the HELENA study. 36 percent of adolescents believed that at least they were not eating unhealthily and only five percent admitted to following rather unhealthy eating habits, the researchers report. The scientists saw a slight ray of hope in the sporting activities of adolescents. According to the HELENA study, almost 50 percent of male teenagers and a third of girls move at least 60 minutes a day. Some deficits in unhealthy eating can possibly be compensated for by the health-promoting effects of sport. Overall, however, the experts are extremely critical of the state of health and eating habits of young Europeans. However, the HELENA study offers a good basis for developing innovative strategies for healthier behavior among young people and then making harmonized nutritional recommendations across Europe, the scientists explained when they presented their current research results.

Long-term health impairments due to unhealthy nutrition The unhealthy eating habits of the adolescents shown in the HELENA study are particularly worrying, since they can have considerable negative consequences for health. The various health consequences of unhealthy eating have already been discussed in earlier studies. For example, the American scientists led by Antonio Convit from the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatry Research in New York presented the results of two independent studies at the beginning of the year, which show that improper nutrition in conjunction with obesity can shrink entire brain regions and thus cause further disorders in eating behavior. In addition, pediatric gastroenterologist Paolo Lionetti from the University of Florence had already published a study in August last year, according to which eating habits in industrialized countries significantly increase the risk of allergies. An increased risk of diabetes and obesity for unhealthy eating habits has also been scientifically proven several times. According to the researchers, the results of the HELENA study should therefore also be understood as a call to develop suitable measures that can be used to achieve a healthier diet for young people in the long term. (fp)

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