Slowly but surely, teens turning healthy

Stacks of salty snacks after school, energy drinks full of caffeine and sugar, cheesy pizzas and burgers with the lot: these are the foods we normally associate with teenagers.

But it seems teens are increasingly aware of the need to fuel themselves with fruits, veggies and other healthy options.

In the latest NSW School Students Health Behaviour Survey, there was an increase in the percentage of teens who were hitting the target intakes for vegetables, breads and cereals and low-fat dairy.

While there was still a long way to go with getting high school students to eat better, with the numbers still coming in at less than half of them eating right, the study suggests there is a change in their attitudes towards food.

Albion Park teen Emily Noakes says her friends are very health-conscious, taking salads and fruit to school and avoiding unhealthy options at the canteen most days of the week.

Emily, 16, believes teenage girls in particular are trying to eat better, partly to be healthy but also to make themselves look like the celebrities they see in magazines and their Instagram feeds.

"Everyone wants to look good for summer, and if you eat healthy that will help it happen. I think it's driven more by image than by being healthy."

She says few people she knows use crash diets to lose weight, preferring to do it through eating well and physical activity.

"In my friendship group, say if someone doesn't eat recess, we'll all ask them why not and tell them they need to eat."

The study also showed that 12- to 17-year-olds were drinking less alcohol, but were consuming their first alcohol at a younger age.

Emily says tougher laws on under-age drinking were making many in her peer group wary of downing beers at a house party.

"I think it's still an issue, but I don't think it's that big of an issue any more.

"Police come to parties and they will take you home, so you don't want that to happen."

Accredited practising dietitian Sharon Allsopp attributes teens eating better to the amount of information available to them at school and online about the benefits of healthy eating and the health risks associated with obesity.

With their bodies growing at a rapid rate, Allsopp says it is important for teens to fuel up with the right foods.

"Things like keeping the fruit bowl topped up and making sure fruit is part of the daily intake, starting the day with breakfast to help with memory and thinking at school," she says.

"Focus on things like healthy snacks like wholegrain breads and cereals, cheese, veggie sticks rather than chips and snack bars."

Allsopp says parents can encourage teenagers to make better choices by getting them involved with food preparation for the household.

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