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5 May 2017

What Determines Teens’ Eating of Fruit and Vegetables?

Keywords: fruit, health, teens, tweens, vegetables, ERC, Western Europe, food, food intake, peers, survey,

Many teens do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. To improve teens’ diet, it is important to know what actually determines their eating of fruit and vegetables. A study presented at the British Feeding and Drinking Group’s (BFDG) Annual Meeting in Reading shows that teens’ actual eating of fruit and vegetables is determined, among other things, by whether they believe their friends often eat fruit and vegetables. 

Take aways

  • Teens eat more fruit and vegetables when they:
    • they really want and like to eat fruit and vegetables.
    • think their friends often eat fruit and vegetables.
  • Teens intent to eat more fruit and vegetable in the near future when they:
    • think they can easily eat more fruit and vegetables. 
    • believe that their friends expect them to eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • For health campaign developers focusing on teens’ fruit and vegetable intake, it is worth looking at ways to adapt the campaign message to teens’ intrinsic motivations and the behavior of their friends. For example, they could use messages in which they show how much fruit and vegetables their friends eat.

Study information

  • The question?

    What are the most important determinants of teens’ fruit and vegetable intake?

  • Who?

    551 nine- to fourteen-year-old children (mean age: 12 years old; 55% were girls)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The researchers used data from the research project Social Network Implementation of Health Campaigns among Youth (also known as the MyMovez project). This project investigates the impact of the social environment on teens’ consumption behavior and physical activity. All participants received the MyMovez Wearable Lab, which consisted of a smartphone with a pre-installed research application and an activity tracker, and carried it with them for five consecutive days. On the smartphone, participants filled out questions about how much they liked eating fruit and vegetables, intentions to eat more fruit and vegetables in the near future, whether they believe they could eat more fruit and vegetables, and their actual eating of fruit and vegetables. The teens also indicated how often their friends ate fruit and vegetables, whether they had the feeling that their friends expected them to eat more fruit and vegetables, and if they were intrinsically motivated (doing something because you want and/or like to do it) to eat healthy snacks.

Facts and findings

  • The teens intended to eat more fruit and vegetables when they:
    • believed that it is easy for them to eat healthy snacks;
    • liked eating fruit and vegetables;
    • had the feeling that their friends expected them to eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • The teens actually ate more fruit and vegetables when they:
    • really wanted or liked eating fruit and vegetables.
    • thought that their friends ate fruit and vegetables often.
  • Critical note: We should interpret the results with caution as the direction of cause and effect is not clear. For example, it is possible that a teen who often eats fruit and vegetables is more likely to make friends who do so as well. After all, doing and liking the same things is an important reason to form a friendship.