Comparison of Dietary Practices and Perceptions of High School and College Students in Ohio

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ABSTRACT

A study with 240 rural high school students and 188 college students was conducted in 1997 to assess current eating habits and perceptions of vegetarian diets. The instrument included a 60-item food frequency checklist, six questions about vegetarian diets, and four demographic questions. Measures of central tendency were used to compare dietary practices and perceptions about vegetarian diets of females and males, and teens and young adults.

Key words: Nutritional Diets, Adolescent

Diets, Adolescent Vegetarians

INTRODUCTION

Vegetarian teens and young adults represent a rapidly growing population. The Gallup Poll indicates the number of vegetarians in the United States doubled between 1985 and 1992. Nutrition is often a low priority among teens, therefore problematic eating habits can be typical of teenagers no matter what diet they choose. Many young people adopt a vegetarian diet with little or no reliable information regarding nutrient needs. little data exists on the eating habits of vegetarian teens.

This research project was developed by an Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Critical Issues Nutrition Education Task Force, which included three county agents, a district specialist, and a state specialist. The goal of the project was to study a population that was not traditionally reached through Extension nutrition education programs and to assess their dietary habits and understanding of vegetarian diets.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

A limited amount of research has been conducted in the area of adolescent vegetarianism. Burczy (1994) indicates that if a teen chooses to turn vegetarian, understanding the health implications is very important. Getting adequate amounts of calcium and iron are two concerns. This is a concern for teen vegetarians as well as the typical adolescent. Other concerns are haphazard eating habits, lack of nutrition knowledge, and food preparation skills. According to Gershoff (1996), teens may not have the information they need to build a healthy diet. Or, those who have the information may not transfer it to their behavior. Food Insight (1998) noted that statements such as "I don't eat animal products" or "I don't eat dairy foods" exemplify the way some teens segment their diets and eliminate entire categories of foods.

METHODOLOGY

The researchers assessed the variety of foods in the diets of adolescents and young adults, and differences related to gender and educational levels. An additional component determined if this population had a substantial number whom reported following vegetarian diets.

The sample included 240 rural high school students from four Ohio counties and 188 college students enrolled in the General Education Basic Nutrition Course at The Ohio State University. A self-report survey instrument to assess current eating habits and perceptions of vegetarian diets was developed and piloted. The instrument included a 60-item food frequency checklist, six questions about vegetarian diets, and four demographic questions. Measures of central tendency were used to compare dietary practices and perceptions about vegetarian diets of female and males and teens and young adults. …