Whole Grain Consumption Low Among Teens & Young Adults

March 01, 2010

Adolescents and young adults are not consuming enough whole grains, say researchers at the University of Minnesota.

Adolescents and young adults are not consuming enough whole grains, say researchers at the University of Minnesota. Their study, which looked at survey data from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), found that daily intake of whole grains fell below the recommended levels to prevent chronic diseases and maintain a healthy weight.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of grain servings should come from whole grains, but national survey data say that young people are only consuming 10% of total grains as whole grains. 

“Unfortunately, the finding that adolescents and young adults are consuming less than the recommended intake of whole grains was not surprising. National survey data show the average young person consumes one or fewer ounce-equivalent servings of whole grain per day,” says study co-author Dr. Nicole Larson, Department of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota.

According to the study, frequent fast food consumers ate fewer whole grains. In fact, for every 1.7 occasions eating fast food per week, males ate .19 fewer servings per day and females ate .14 fewer servings per day. Eating breakfast and helping with food shopping and meal preparation increased whole grain consumption in both males and females.

If whole grains were available in the home or if there were concerns about health, there was a higher intake of whole grains for both males and females. Males tended to have slightly higher whole grain intakes compared to females, which may simply reflect higher total energy requirements and greater consumption of all grain foods. Men were also positively influenced by family meal frequency and support for healthy eating from friends.

However, the strongest influence on whole grain intake was taste. Those that liked the taste of whole grains tended to consumemore whole grains. Along those same lines, teens that perceived taste barriers and time barriers to eating healthful foods consumedfewer whole grains.

“This study and others suggest common barriers to whole grain consumption include difficulty with identifying these foods, dislike for their taste, texture, or appearance, a limited availability of whole-grain products in restaurants and at school, and the higher cost for some products compared to refined grains,” says Larson.

Larson adds that retailers and health educators can work together to promote improvements in whole grain intake. Nutrition interventions should focus on having consumers taste a variety of whole grain foods while helping them identify and prepare whole grain products. Newer products, like white whole wheat bread, may provide an opportunity to introduce young people to whole grain foods, as limited options provide a real barrier to increasing consumption.

“To help young consumers increase their whole grain intake, it will be important for restaurants to increase the number and variety of whole grain products on their menus,” she says. “Additionally, it will be important to develop packaging and menus that clearly identify whole grain content, and to promote whole grain products to household members responsible for food shopping.”