Teenagers in gen­eral are rel­a­tively unhealthy eaters. But minority teens in par­tic­ular have higher rates of obe­sity and eat far fewer fruits and vegetables.

Deb Franko, a pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Coun­seling and Applied Edu­ca­tional Psy­chology in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, and her col­leagues recently pub­lished a study in the Journal of Nutri­tion Edu­ca­tion and Behavior exam­ining the social and cog­ni­tive fac­tors that may explain teens’ reluc­tance to eat their share of bananas, broc­coli and baby car­rots. The fac­tors that influ­enced con­sump­tion, she explained, were dif­ferent for minority and non­mi­nority youth.

Franko, whose research focuses on obe­sity, eating dis­or­ders and body image, used base­line data from an eating-​​disorder pre­ven­tion study funded by the National Insti­tutes of Health to iden­tify indi­vidual, envi­ron­mental and inter­per­sonal rea­sons for the food choices among stu­dents at four Boston-​​area high schools.

If we could under­stand a little bit more about why ado­les­cents do or don’t eat fruits and veg­eta­bles,” Franko spec­u­lated, “then that might have impli­ca­tions for inter­ven­tions designed to reduce risk for obesity.”

In the study, both minority and non­mi­nority stu­dents cited a variety of bar­riers to eating fruits and veg­eta­bles, but other pre­dic­tors were unique to the minority par­tic­i­pants. Minori­ties with a strong belief in accom­plishing the goals they set their minds to, for example, were more likely than their peers to eat fruits and veg­eta­bles. The same cor­re­la­tion was not found among non­mi­nority stu­dents, who all had rel­a­tively high self-​​efficacy.

Having familial sup­port and under­standing the ben­e­fits of eating five fruits and veg­eta­bles each day, the study found, were key fac­tors to pre­dicting whether minority stu­dents would be more or less likely to eat their greens.

Franko said increasing aware­ness of the life­long ben­e­fits of eating health­fully or tar­geting self-​​efficacy through school pro­grams would be easier than boosting eco­nomic status, which other studies have iden­ti­fied as a main reason why minori­ties eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

We hope to use our find­ings to develop inter­ven­tions that will encourage eating more fruits and veg­eta­bles among both minority and non­mi­nority ado­les­cents,” she said.