Healthy eating: What does it mean to adolescents?

Jillian K. Croll, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Mary Story

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

237 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the meanings of "healthy" and "unhealthy" eating and the importance of healthy eating among adolescents. Design: Twenty-five structured focus groups were conducted. Subjects: These focus groups consisted of 203 adolescent girls and boys enrolled in three senior high schools and one junior high school. Variables Measured: The variables measured were adolescents' self-report of perceptions of healthy and unhealthy eating and their descriptions of the importance of healthy eating to adolescents. Analysis: Data analysis was done by general content coding and specific content coding. Results: Adolescents have a significant amount of knowledge regarding healthy foods and believe that healthy eating involves moderation, balance, and variety. Despite this knowledge, they find it difficult to follow healthy eating recommendations and frequently consume foods that they perceive as unhealthy. Barriers to healthy eating include a lack of time, limited availability of healthy foods in schools, and a general lack of concern regarding following healthy eating recommendations. Implications: These findings suggest that healthy eating messages based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are reaching adolescents, but interventions are needed that assist adolescents with the translation of this knowledge into healthy behaviors. Interventions should help make healthy eating easy for youth to apply and explain the consequences of unhealthy eating in terms that they value, stressing meaningful short-term benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-198
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

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  • Adolescent nutrition
  • Healthy eating
  • Nutrition knowledge in adolescence


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