Worrying Shortfall of Important Nutrients among Irish Teenagers

The Irish Universities Nutritional Alliance (IUNA) have just released new findings from their latest study, which reported on the dietary intakes of 428 Irish teenagers aged 13-18 years.

Inadequate intakes of a number of important nutrients were reported, with a particularly high percentage having inadequate intakes of calcium (51%) and vitamin D (94%). Inadequacies were also shown for 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% and 22% of intakes respectively. This food group also contributed to 11% of vitamin D, 19% of vitamin A, 12% of protein and 6% 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.

One of the lead researchers of the study, Dr Janette Walton from Munster Technological University, said “It is important that teenagers consume a healthy, balanced diet in order to support this rapid phase of growth and development. 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 9 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 5 servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group for those aged 9-18 years, with 3 servings recommended at the other stages of life. Serving examples include 200 ml of milk, 125 g of yogurt or 25 g of cheese.

You can find the full report of the National Teen’s Food Survey here (www.iuna.net).

For information on nutrition for teenagers, you can visit www.healthfest.ie ; explore the NDC’s interactive learning course on ‘Nutrition for Teenagers’ at www.ndc.ie/nutrition-and-you  ; or download for free their ‘Nutrition & You: Teenagers’ booklet at www.ndc.ie/publications

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