Understanding What Influences Your Teen's Diet

Most teenagers' lives are filled with friends, sports, and homework, and along with those come junk food. Teens don't always understand the importance of a healthy diet. Research shows that he obesity rate in young adults continues to climb in the United States. Teens, especially girls, also face the problem of developing unhealthy eating habits associated with dieting. Healthy eating habit is important for the rapid growth and development that teen's experience. As parents, we can instill good nutritional choices in our teen by teaching them about nutrition and giving them healthy options.

Your teen's diet

As teens become more independent, they make more of their own food choices. Often those choices are influenced by:

  • hunger and food cravings,
  • their likes and dislikes,
  • time and convenience,
  • what's available,
  • parental influence on eating behaviors (including the culture or religion of the family), and
  • situation-specific factors including mood, body image, habit, cost, media, and vegetarian beliefs.

Even though teens look to their parents and other adults for direction, they are more open to the influence of their environment, because teens make choices to address their immediate needs and wants.

Individual taste, hunger, and the cost of food

One of the most important individual influences on food choice is taste, which is determined by the aroma and texture of food. Typically, teens choose foods that taste good, because eating those foods makes them feel good.

Teens also tend to gravitate toward food that is easy or quick. This can mean quick meals at home or quick meals at fast food places, but neither of these choices tends to be very healthy. Research has shown that teens also appear to be price sensitive.


As parents, we have the greatest influence - we purchase and prepare a lot of the food that our teens' consume at home. This gives parents that opportunity to be a positive role model when it comes to making nutritious choices. Purchase foods that are healthy - focus more on fresh fruits and vegetables than quick snack items. Prepare meals that are healthy and low in fat. Show your teens that healthy foods can be delicious also.

Family eating habits, activity patterns and attitudes toward food and eating have an enormous influence on teens. If your family eats breakfast, it is likely your teen will too.

Family income is another factor that influences what teens eat and the food choices available to them. Research indicates that household food availability and accessibility have been identified as strong correlates of food intake in children and adolescents. If you keep fruits and vegetables in an easily accessible place and encourage your teen to eat them, it could serve as an influencing factor in your teen choices.


School has an important influence on what teens eat. School nutrition education programs are a key source of information about healthy eating. If your teen is taught in class about nutritious snacks, you can reinforce them easily at home. Also, encouraging your teen to take a healthy lunch or choose a healthy lunch option at school helps keep them from getting snacks and sodas out of the vending machines


Peers influence the dietary selection of teens. They set standards for acceptable food habits, dining location, and even the timing of meals. Teens' eating habits may mirror what their friends are eating and the food served at their favorite hangouts. In studies conducted on a group of twelve to eighteen year olds, it was noted that the majority included items such as milk, ice-cream, steak, roast beef, hamburgers, pork chops, ham, chicken, orange juice, french fries, bread, cake, and pie as an integral parts of their diet.

In addition to their peers, teens have the opportunity to interact with other adults like sport coaches, teachers, or camp leaders who significantly contribute to their choice of foods. They can also effectively act as role models for healthy food choices, by encouraging teens to eat healthy and by eating healthy foods themselves.

Media influence

Television and magazines have been shown to have considerable influence on teens' choice of foods. The average American child is exposed to 40,000 TV advertisements a year (69 percent of which advertise candy, cereal and fast food), and these ads were found to increase their consumption of fatty and sugary food products as well as decrease their consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Many parents report that they base their decisions about selection of fast food, snack food, and new breakfast cereals on their teen's preferences, and parents cite TV as an influence on these preferences. Teens are a vulnerable population for a lucrative market, and advertisers in the media often target specific campaigns directly at them.

It is critical that teenagers are encouraged to make nutritious food choices. Parents can encourage their teens to change their eating habits by being a positive role model and providing healthy food options, but be patient. Their eating habits won't change over night!

Fast Facts About Adolescents

In the United States, at least 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders.


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