A third of high school students do not eat vegetables each day and more than a fourth do not always have a daily serving of fruit, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report highlighting the need for healthier school lunches.
"Our basic findings are that fruit and vegetable consumption among high school students is low," said Sonia A. Kim, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the authors of the study. "There's more that schools and communities can do to encourage consumption."
Black and Hispanic students ate the least amount of vegetables, according to the report, which is based on data from the 2010 National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study.
Overall, only 16.8% of teens ate fruit more than four times a day and even fewer, 11.2%, ate vegetables that often, the report said.
Fruits and vegetables can reduce chronic diseases and some cancers and help teens manage their weight, the CDC said.
CDC guidelines for adolescents who exercise less than 30 minutes a day are for girls to eat 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily and for boys to eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables. A cup is the equivalent of one medium-sized apple or eight strawberries, the CDC said.
The study did not examine the reasons why high school students do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, but it recommends increasing the availability of healthier foods.
The CDC participates in a program called Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, which has a goal of putting 6,000 salad bars in schools over the next three years.
There is evidence that salad bars do increase fruit and vegetable consumption among children, Kim told Reuters.
School and community gardening programmes and farmer's markets also encourage healthier eating, Kim said.
(Reuters Health, November 2011)