Craving Good Nutrition

September 21, 2018

If you assume your high school athletes primarily want to eat fries and guzzle soda and will roll their eyes at advice on healthy eating, you may be missing a prime opportunity to influence their health for the rest of their lives. In fact, according to a recent study by a team of researchers at Oregon State University, teenagers appear to be much more open to changing lifestyle behaviors than most people assume, and clinicians working with sports teams have a perfect forum to share information.

As reported in an article on WTOP.com, the Oregon State study followed 400 high school soccer players for two years, tracking their intake of added sugar and unhealthy saturated fat. Half the teens were given sports nutrition information, life-skills workshops, newsletters, and a virtual learning platform. The other half were not offered any nutrition information.

Over the 24-month period, the athletes receiving nutrition education cut their sugar intake by 12 grams per day and their saturated fat intake by 3 grams. Meanwhile, teens in the control group actually increased their sugar intake by 10 grams a day.

In an interview about the study, Sally Squires, MS, nutrition writer for “The Lean Plate Club,” said teens’ motivation for listening to nutrition advice often comes from not wanting to end up like the adults around them.

“[Kids in this age group] care a lot about their appearance, they also were seeing a lot of adults in their lives who already have weight-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Squires said. “Frankly, many of them expressed concern that this was their future. They could see how some of the adults in their lives were struggling, and they really wanted to make changes.”

The Oregon State findings are already making an impact. Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C., and two other schools have introduced nutrition education programs based on the research, with similar results—students involved in the education programs increased their water consumption, dropped their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, and began eating more fruits and vegetables.

“What was really interesting to us was that they were actually going home and sharing this information with their parents, trying to get them to either be more active or eat more healthily,” Squires said. “It was encouraging to us that … teens could actually be agents of change in their own families.”

So, rather than seeing high school athletes as attached to their junk food and resistant to adult guidance, Squires recommends realizing that they are actually seeking information and eager for suggestions.

“We’re starting to see that teens are actually craving this information, which is not what we would necessarily expect,” she said.

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