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August 29, 2019

Malnourished Young Men

Too many young men don't eat enough fruits and veggies. Cooking is one issue; shortsightedness about health is another.

Many of us are guilty of not eating our “five-a-day” of fruits and veggies, but young men are especially bad at it. Young men tend to be conscious of their diet in terms of its effect on their physique, but are unaware of a healthy diet’s influence on their long-term health, according to a new study.

Men, ages 18 to 24 and all at a healthy weight, were asked to keep a food diary for four days. They were then divided into groups: those who ate more than four servings of fruits and vegetables a day — “high consumers;” and those who ate less than three servings a day — “low consumers.”

The young men were more focused on their physique and building muscle than they were on eating a healthy diet.

Next, the young men were divided into focus groups, and the researchers sat down to talk with them about health, diet and fitness. Magazine articles and health promotion materials were used to jumpstart the conversation.

Both groups believed that fruits and vegetables were nutritious and healthy, but none understood the future benefits to their health, such as decreasing the risk of diabetes or heart disease. The young men were more focused on their physique and building muscle than they were on eating a healthy diet.

The young men classified as low consumers didn’t think much about their future health. They didn’t like vegetables and either didn’t know how to cook or would not cook for themselves. They found convenience foods easier to prepare and thought fruits and vegetables were expensive, not easily available, and took too long to prepare. Fruits and vegetables were also not seen as filling.

The young men who ate few fruits and vegetables generally did not trust health information and believed nutrition and health education could be better designed if it focused on their interests — sex, sports and exercise. Their food choices were driven by friends, family and social norms, not good health. Clearly, no one was telling them about the way nutrition affects sperm quality.

Men who got their five-a-day of fruits and vegetables felt more confident in being able to afford, purchase and prepare fruits and vegetables. These young men had positive attitudes about healthy food. They liked fruits and vegetables and knew how to cook.

The young men eating the most fruits and vegetables believed they had their diets under control, and were open to trying new foods. Cooking and eating nutritious food gave them a sense of enjoyment, satisfaction, and improved their moods.

Young men are often overlooked and hard to reach as target groups for nutrition education. This is concerning since men are more likely than women to develop health problems like heart disease as they age.

The study sheds light on what does — and does not — motivate young men. Perhaps policy makers need to take note and create health messages that will better catch the attention of young men who are more concerned about immediate results than the long-term impact of healthy eating.

The study was published in Nutrients.

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