Young adults need good eating habits

Kirsty Fairbairn
Kirsty Fairbairn
There is huge psychological benefit in eating healthily and knowing you can take care of yourself, writes Kirsty Fairbairn.

Hilary Barry did a great job on TVNZ's Seven Sharp on Monday highlighting the challenges students face in feeding themselves well.

She popped into a Dunedin student flat, checked out their pantry and fridge and promptly went out and bought them some seasonal local food and cooked them up a great feed. Although I couldn't help but notice that their oven didn't seem up to the task, their refrigerator was missing the door shelves to store milk and other goods, and Hilary had to bring foil roasting pans along with her.

That set my alarm bells ringing. I have seen that scenario many times before with my young adult clients renting accommodation. How are our youth expected to feed themselves well if the necessary food storage and cooking equipment is not fully functional?

To me, that segment highlighted the advocacy, support and skills that dietitians provide to the community, so they can be healthy and productive members of society. Today is Dietitians Day - a day where dietitians (yes, that is two t's in New Zealand) pause to emphasise our core skill of providing food and nutrition advice to promote and maintain health and wellbeing.

Dietitians of Canada summarised it brilliantly in this year's Dietitians Day tagline: ''Unlock the Potential of Food''. Dietitians can unlock the potential for food to fuel us, to bring us together, to heal and to discover new flavours.

Hilary's excursion into a student flat is part of a sports dietitian's typical day. We teach athletes how to feed themselves well so they can balance the demands of study and sport effectively. We also empower their healthy independence by making sure they know how to look after themselves well.

There is huge psychological benefit in both eating healthily and in knowing that you can take care of yourself. A study by the University of Otago last year found that providing young adults with two extra serves of fruits and vegetables a day for a fortnight led to significant improvements in their psychological wellbeing.

All youth would benefit from access to a dietitian. Dietitians can take them on supermarket tours and teach how to cook healthy meals that are affordable, tasty and fast to prepare.

Whether a student or not, those precious first years away from home are fundamental in shaping how our youth rapidly learn (or not) the skills they need to look after themselves well as adults, and in turn, look after their future children.

Today, many young adults are interested in eating well. They feel the effects of a nutrient-poor diet. We must support them in any desire they have for eating healthily at this critical juncture in their lives. A survey of New Zealand youth found 87.5% of 20-24-year-olds care about eating a healthy diet.

Most of them (78%) recognised eating fruit and vegetables was part of a healthy diet, and eating healthily gave them more energy, helped them feel sick less often and also helped them feel good about themselves.

Many of us take for granted the cooking equipment we have in our own houses. Students exist on an extremely limited income and are still finding their feet on how to live a life independently from their parents.

I would call on landlords to provide cooking equipment in good working order for tenants. Not just stoves, ovens, refrigerators and microwaves; but also pots, pans and roasting dishes necessary to use them properly.

Include them in your bond, if you must. It is particularly important for people on low incomes, as the best way to eat a healthy diet on a budget is to take advantage of cheap, plentiful seasonal produce and cook it yourself.

To the parents of students, how about getting together and paying for a dietitian to come into your children's flats and help them learn some economic, fast, healthy recipes that they can cook together as a group? It won't cost you that much, and is a worthwhile investment in your child's mental, social and physical wellbeing. We enjoy supporting them. Visit https://dietitians to find a dietitian local to you.

And, if a dietitian has helped you, today would be a great time to acknowledge them on your social media using these tags: @DietitiansNZ #dietitiansday #potentialoffood

We love what we do, and we hope you do too.

-Dr Kirsty Fairbairn is a health, wellness and sports dietitian at Invigorate Nutrition, in Dunedin.

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