Malnutrition of High School Students

The malnutrition of high school students is an extremely widespread problem in the United States:

  • Dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that girls 14 to 18 years old should eat at least 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day and boys in the same age range should eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables. But the new report, which presented survey data from more than 13,000 high school students across the country, found that in 2017, only about 7 percent of the students met the daily recommendations for fruit, and just 2 percent met the recommendations for vegetables.

  • Added sugar contributes to 20 percent of total food energy in children’s diets; 56 percent to 85 percent of children consume soda on any given day.


There are a number of factors that cause this problem:

  1. Deceptive advertising

  2. Studies have shown that even brief exposure to televised food commercials with cartoon characters such as brand mascots and licensed media characters can influence preschool children’s food preferences toward products which are often high in fat, salt and sugar.

  3. Fewer than one-third of schools provide thorough coverage of nutrition education related to influencing students’ motivation, attitudes, and eating behaviors

  4. In a video I recently created, I explain that high schoolers are given independence over what they eat without ever being taught how to eat properly. Many make mistakes that lead to long-term chronic health problems.

  5. Lunches brought from home often provide as little as one-third the recommended dietary allowance for food energy, vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and zinc


Why this matters:


  • Ample scientific research establishes that food insecurity experienced at even the mildest levels has acute and later chronic effects on health, cognition, and socio-emotional adaptation.

  • Young children raised in food insecure households are at a greater risk of fair or poor health, hospitalizations, developmental delays, cognitive impairment, poor academic performance, abnormal weight and BMI, and decreased social skills. Inadequate nutritional intake in childhood can also increase vulnerability to future adverse chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

  • The CDC reports that “young persons having unhealthy eating habits tend to maintain these as they age. Behaviors and physiological risk factors are difficult to change once they are established during youth.”

  • Studies repeatedly link good nutrition to learning readiness, academic achievement, and decreased discipline and emotional problems.


The solution: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), NSLP (National School Lunch Program), & SBP (School Breakfast Program)


  • Research shows that participation in SNAP and WIC can prevent or mitigate food insecurity, decrease the risk of hospitalizations, and improve health and academic achievement.

  • SNAP can improve overall child health, help children have a healthy weight for age, and support cognitive and emotional development and academic performance.

  • School meal programs have the potential to provide students with better nutrition for one or two meals every day, which would be a great health improvement for many students.

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Food Insecurity readings and research use a variety of confusing acronyms. To make these readings more inclusive, I have complied a guide of commonly used acronyms I have come across: FI: Food Insecur