Feeding the Next Generation?

By Martina Watts

Most would agree that teenagers are one of the most challenging of age-groups. They are also one of the most rewarding, or so I kept telling myself on the way to a healthy eating workshop for young people, organised by the charity Mind. I suspected that I was unlikely to be greeted with much enthusiasm by the participants, even if they managed to turn up at the 'unearthly' hour of ten in the morning during half-term.

When I arrived, all were present, although somewhat the worse for wear after a 'heavy' night. They were smoking outside but reluctantly agreed to come indoors to listen what I had to say. Not a bad start, and tired or not, I gave them an hour long crash course in nutrition basics. At times, the teenagers looked bored, but only one of them left the room before I had finished.

During the question and answer session, some of the youngsters dropped their defensive coolness and showed me they had been listening after all. Searching questions were asked, "If some of our foods are bad for us, why on earth are we being allowed to eat them?" I had no immediate answer to this, but after some discussion we arrived at the conclusion that the government should be doing more to clamp down on irresponsible food manufacturers and advertising. The group didn't think much of well-known sports celebrities selling junk food to children. I was struck by the contrast between the endless self-promotion of TV personalities and the tireless dedication shown by individual support workers at Mind, trying to help young people achieve their full potential.

Teenagers need role models they can respect - people to look up to and be inspired by. Like rudderless ships in the vast ocean of choice, they require signposts to guide them through increasingly murky waters. Modern day celebrities don't match up for long because fame is relatively easy to come by. Respect, however, needs to be earned, and can you really respect people who try to sell you junk food?

As I left the group, by now gasping for their overdue fix of diet coke, I wondered just how much of the youngster's daily diet was contributing to their world weariness, lack of concentration and addictive behaviour. Still, according
to their feedback forms, all had found the talk interesting. One participant thought she realised "what some things do to your body and where these things are found in food." Another said that he would eat less processed pies in order to lose some weight. Only one young girl was "not really bothered about what I eat as long as it tastes nice." The majority seemed willing to drink more water, eat more protein, fruit and vegetables and consume less sugar and refined bread.

How their resolve translates into practice and how long it lasts is another matter, but I was encouraged by the teenagers' interest and initial response. Although they can be more difficult to approach than younger children, it would be a mistake to neglect this age-group. Will they self-destruct on jumbo-sized portions of sugar, processed foods, alcohol and drugs, or start rejecting the nutritional insults that have become the order of the day? Let's see some rebels with a cause, for in future these promising young people are going to provide us with the next generation and, ultimately, look after us in our old age.

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Martina Watts has been in practice for almost 10 years as a Nutritional Therapist in Brighton, England. She has a special interest and experience in working with children and adults suffering from digestive, behavioural and immune problems. She is an independent Nutrition Consultant for schools, local government and the National Health Service. Martina is also a regular columnist for The Argus newspaper in Sussex, England where this article was first published. For more details, please visit http://www.thehealthbank.co.uk.

Posted June 2005 | Permanent Link

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