Clueless! Young Adults and College Students Know Little about Eating Healthy

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Two studies at Northwestern University show that college students and young adults in general, have little knowledge about healthy eating. Ignorance may be bliss, but as far as diet is concerned it is putting young people at risk for disease later in life. In the first study, researchers followed more than 3,500 originally healthy young adults (starting age 18 to 30) for 20 years, and over that time monitored 5 positive lifestyle factors: not overweight or obese, low alcohol intake, healthy diet, physically active, and not smoking.

What the researchers found was to be expected: healthy lifestyle changes during young adulthood are linked to decreased risk of arterial disease in middle age. Unhealthy habits are linked to increased risk. While the benefits of healthy habits are well-known, it had been unclear whether making health behavior changes as a young adult could still alter coronary artery disease risk.

The second study found that the majority of college students engage in unhealthy behaviors that can increase their risk of cancer later on in life. A startling 95 percent of students fail to eat the recommended five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables and more than 60 percent don’t get adequate physical activity ─ at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 or more days a week or at least 5 days with a half-hour of moderate exercise. The worst results were among racial minorities, especially African Americans and Native Americans.

 My Viewpoint: The findings were not surprising. Lifestyle can be a lifeline to glowing health or the fast track to disease. Eating poorly and leading a sedentary lifestyle leads to major health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

 What This Means to You: These studies bring to light a glaring deficit in nutritional education that should start at home and be reinforced at school. Whenever I observe young people these days, they seem to always be drinking a sugar laden soft drink of some sort. This is a big problem as sugar consumption fans the flames of inflammation – the root cause of many chronic and debilitating diseases.

 Recommendation: Young adults can benefit immeasurably from following an anti-inflammatory diet like my PAM diet. It may be a challenge with their on-the-go lifestyles but it can be done! My book The Fast Food Diet has some great tips to get started. Young adults may feel that worrying about health is something reserved for mid-life or later years, but nothing could be further from the truth. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure which means starting a healthy lifestyle early is a great way to reap the preventive benefits later.

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