Australian teenagers are ‘uptight’, ‘up and down’ and ‘out to the wrong lunch’, according to new research that exposes a massive shortfall in the consumption of foods required to prevent constipation, avoid peaks and troughs in energy levels and reduce the risk of long-term health complications.
Released today, the Dietary Fibre in Children Survey reveals only four per cent of teenagers eat the recommended dietary fibre intake for their age, while only 17 per cent of children 12 years or younger consume the required amount of fibre.
Commissioned by the Fibre for Life Advisory Group (FLAG) the study of mothers with children up to 17 years of age found that 50 per cent of teenagers consume less than 10 grams of fibre per day – a shortfall of 50-65 per cent of their recommended intake.
According to Dr David Topping, CSIRO human nutrition researcher, “Many young people seem to be missing out on significant health benefits. A lack of adequate dietary fibre would make them less regular, have variable blood sugar levels and miss out on a sustained energy source – not to mention cause them to miss out on the long-term benefits of fibre for bowel health.”
“Parents need to understand that a diet high in fibre helps to smooth out the spikes and falls in blood sugar levels which occur in the hours following meals. Equally important is the sustained supply of energy provided by dietary fibre,” he said.
Given the importance of concentration and energy during schooling, the benefits of total dietary fibre intake, and a particular form of fibre known as resistant starch, cannot be overlooked.
“The survey reported that the diet of teenagers does not differ markedly from that of pre-school and primary school aged children – which is a concern for all kids. Young people need to moderate their intake of refined foods so that they benefit from a greater intake of dietary fibre – including resistant starch.”
Professor Paul Nestel from the Baker Heart Research Institute noted that while mothers recognised the need to increase dietary fibre intake, the majority had difficulty naming sources of fibre-rich foods or identifying foods contained resistant starch – a form of fibre that has demonstrated considerable health benefits.
Resistant starch is found in a number of foods, such as particular high-fibre white breads, breakfast cereals, pulses (e.g. baked beans), bananas and potato, pasta and rice that has been cooked and allowed to cool. It is acknowledged by the National Health and Medical Research Council as a valuable dietary component for good health.
Professor Nestel believes the findings of the Dietary Fibre in Children Survey indicate a dietary pattern in children that may lead to longer-term health complications.
“If the diet of young people does not improve, specifically through increased consumption of fibre, we may see issues with excess weight gain and other metabolic complications in the years ahead, since problems that arise in childhood carry over into adult life.” he said.
“Resistant starch has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and recent studies indicate it may promote a feeling of fullness – which may reduce the risk of weight gain. Parents should encourage a pattern of eating that promotes a variety of fibre rich foods at a young age.”
Dietitian Shane Landon claims fibre-rich foods are all too often left off the ‘grocery shopping list’ by parents.
“While around 50 per cent of Australian mothers understand that fibre helps keep their children regular, the majority have a limited understanding of the other health benefits of fibre, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers, or the foods that contain this important substance,” he said.
“The survey actually found that as many as one in four mums incorrectly believes fish and red meat are good sources of fibre.”
Mr Landon said the good news was that three-in-four mums would like their children to eat more food that is rich in fibre.
“Clearly more needs to be done to educate both parents and children on the short and long-term benefits of fibre and the range of foods that represent good sources of fibre – especially resistant starch.”
The Fibre for Life Advisory Group recommends that Australians concerned about their dietary fibre intake consult a general practitioner, dietitian or other qualified health professional.