Researchers identify the dietary patterns of German teens

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Sat 14th Apr, 2012

Are your kids eating healthy? Probably not, new study reports

A new study analyzing the eating patterns of German adolescents reveal who eats what, and how healthy they are. Its results suggest that boys from all socio-economic status and adolescents of both sexes from low-income families have the least healthy diets.

Almut Richter, from the Technical University of Munich, and his colleagues, analyzed data obtained from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents. Their dataset consisted of the dietary history of 1272 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years, and looked at 48 aggregated food groups, for boys and girls separately. Statistical analyses were used to reveal dietary patterns of boys and girls, and to make associations with other factors, such as energy and nutrient intake, socio-economic status (SES), lifestyle characteristics, and overweight status.

This research was published in the open access journal BMC Pediatrics on March 22.

Main results: sex and socioeconomic status matter

Their analyses suggest that there are three basic dietary patterns among boys and two among girls.

For boys, they found a so-called "western" pattern, which consisted of things like pizza, 'doner kebab', burgers, French fries, soft-drinks, etc. This pattern was found most among older boys, with lower socio-economic status (SES), and lower physical activity level (PA). Then, boys from a high SES and with high PA level were found most likely to undertake a "healthy pattern" which meant a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, chicken, among other things. Finally older boys, regardless of SES or levels of PA where more into a so-called "traditional pattern" consisting of processed meat, potatoes, white bread, margarine, meat other than chicken, eggs, cheese, and fish.

In contrast, younger girls with low SES, who attended grammar school less often and spent more hours watching TV per day, most likely followed a "traditional and western" pattern. This pattern included "potatoes, warm sauces, meat (except chicken), white bread, processed meat, as well as pizza, French fries, sausages, soft drinks, confectionary, cake/cookies and was negatively correlated with water". For girls, the "healthy pattern" which was similar to that of boys included more vegetarian dishes, eggs, fish, water and warm sauces. This pattern was not correlated with age, SES or any other variable, which suggests, for example, that girls from all ages and from any SES background were equally likely to follow a healthy diet.

Almut Richter gives some further insight into their main results:"The most surprising results was that in such young ages already clearly distinct and consistent dietary patterns exist, including pronounced differences between girls and boys. An implication is that adolescent boys should be more focused upon dietary intervention measures and the same is true for adolescents with a low socio-economic background."

What about nutrition?

Researchers also evaluated the relationship between diet and nutrient intake. As expected, they found that for both sexes following a "healthy pattern" it increased their intake of vitamins and minerals. However, when looking at teens following a "traditional and western" pattern, differences were found between boys and girls. For boys, they detected a decrease in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin D, biotin and calcium, whereas for girls vitamin A, C, E, K and folate decreased. Furthermore, boys of all ages following a "traditional" pattern showed higher densities of vitamin B12 and vitamin D and lower densities of fiber, magnesium and iron."

Amazingly, the authors found "no significant associations between dietary patterns and overweight", which according to the authors is "explainable because the dietary patterns give no information about long term energy balance, the main cause of being overweight". So German teens must be doing something right in their eating and activity patterns.

Conclusions: Older boys and both boys and girls from low SES prefer things like take-away food, meat, confectionary, soft drinks and other unhealthy treats. As expected these groups have lower levels of several vitamins and minerals and should be more concerned about improving their diets.

This research, funded by the German Research Foundation, was a collaborative effort among scientists from the Marketing and Consumer Research group of the Technical University of Munich in cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin and the University of Kiel.


Almut Richter, Christin Heidemann, Matthias B Schulze, Jutta Roosen, Silke Thiele and Gert B M Mensink. 2012. Dietary patterns of adolescents in Germany - Associations with nutrient intake and other health related lifestyle characteristics. BMC Pediatrics 2012, 12:35 doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12-35.

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