LEXINGTON, Ky., (March 8, 2016) — The teenage years are a time when many individuals develop habits, both good and bad. A University of Kentucky researcher is beginning a project to try to improve the eating habits of teens.
With a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alison Gustafson will study the food purchasing patterns of teens in rural areas of Kentucky and North Carolina. The end result will hopefully be improved overall health and well-being of the participants.
“Teens purchase quite a bit of food themselves,” said Gustafson, an assistant professor in the UK Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “They also have a huge influence on the foods that their parents purchase.”
According to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 18 percent of Kentucky high schoolers and 12.5 percent of high school students in North Carolina were obese in 2013.
In the four-year study, Gustafson will work with 14- and 15-year-old students in Clinton, Knox, Magoffin and Greenup counties. North Carolina counties include Greene, Lenoir and Pitt.
“Research has shown that this age range is a critical time point when behaviors start to shift,” Gustafson said. “While the majority of the participants aren’t able to drive, they have access to a large quantity of food both at school and in their community, and they are heavily influenced by their peers.”
Gustafson will gather information about the availability of foods in participants’ homes, schools and communities, their shopping patterns and group of friends. She will then work with local family and consumer sciences extension agents to develop and implement a curriculum based on the teens’ social networks and environments. The curriculum will emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and consuming fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. Teens will learn to choose healthier foods when out with friends, to select healthier foods based on their neighborhood, to choose food venues that offer healthier foods, and to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption at home.
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