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Adolescents' food perceptions and actual eating habits may not be as dire as many adults think, suggests findings from a new survey from Mintel.
Asked why they eat what they eat, two in five kids and teens said they reach for foods that give them more energy. Over one-third said they purposefully eat foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients, while approximately one-quarter said they try to eat foods that are low in fat; and another 22 percent are looking for low-in-sugar foods.
"The battle is half won," said Chris Haack, senior analyst at Mintel. "Kids understand that food gives them energy and improves their overall health. Now, the challenge is to motivate more young people to actively improve what, when and how much they eat -- to place healthfulness above indulgence more frequently than not."
On the positive side, Mintel found two-thirds (65 percent) of kids and teens said they eat dinner at home at least five times a week, while 33 percent do so daily, said Haack, who noted that better eating often starts at home, where parents can shape food preferences and habits.
What's more, only 13 percent of youngsters sit with the family for fewer than three dinners per week. "The perception that today's youth constantly eats alone, on-the-go, and out of the home is simply wrong," he added.
The latest research from the Chicago-based Mintel also confirms that teens are especially receptive to healthy eating messages. When asked about their attitudes toward food, 66 percent of teens said they believed "eating gives you energy/vitality," while 61 percent said "it's important to eat a balanced diet." Two in five (41 percent) said they liked the trend towards healthier fast food.
Still, the number one fast food restaurant visited by youth is McDonald's, by a large margin above better-for-you alternatives like Subway.
"Health and wellness campaigns have impacted kids' and teens' food perceptions, but they haven't completely changed their eating habits," said Haack. "Companies need to find ways to reinvent home-based meals and energize healthy snacking, so today's youth can see the benefits of better nutrition and take action."