In the current era, people have limited time for eating healthy food. Food is a significant factor for the maintenance, development, functioning and reproduction of life. Unhealthy eating is cited as the second biggest killer after smoking. In this age of convenience, people in West are having more processed foods than ever and 60 per cent of the population is considered obese. Even childhood obesity is prevalent nowadays.
People in Pakistan are being under the influence of Western countries, so the trend of having unhealthy and fast food is integrating. Hence, there is a need of planning nutrition education for improvement of dietary habits as well as to increase the awareness and significance of healthy diet among people.
For the promotion of good health, a balanced diet is a nutritional life style, which requires consumption of right quantities of food from all groups. Diet is often stated as a dietary routine in order to lose weight. Though we can say that diet simply means what we eat in the course of 24hrs, one week or one month period. However, barriers to healthy eating involved the main points of security that are availability, accessibility, utilization (personal preferences).
Family support, resources, desire and will power are the major facilitators of healthy eating. Environmental interferences also play a key role to improve health in populations. Using educational and multi-dimensional environmental technologies, nutrition interventions can act as an exemplary source of health promotion, personality style, parenting behaviour, dietary habits and physical activity.
Nonetheless, it could moderate the relationship between adolescents as well. This positive relationship will increase parent’s awareness about dietary habits and restricting sedentary behaviours and access to unhealthy food.
In the current state, a substantial role in the environmental changes has predisposed that what, where and how much we eat. This uncalculated eating pattern results in short term health problems such as obesity, iron deficiency, anemia, eating disorders, dental caries and long term health problems such as cancer, CHD, hemorrhages and stroke. However, it can be prevented by healthy eating.
Adolescents believe that healthy eating accommodates balance, variety and moderation that eventually contribute positively in cognitive functions. Moreover, healthy eating also improves individuals’ social benefits, sport performances (flexibility, strength, reflexes improved fitness), coping strategies (such as relief, relaxation, and frustration).
Despite this knowledge, adolescents find it difficult to follow healthy eating recommendations and are likely to consume unhealthy foods frequently. Moreover, lack of time, limited availability of foods in schools and a general lack of concern regarding healthy eating recommendations also play significant roles as barriers to healthy eating.
Dietary habits are influenced by several factors such as sensory appeal, personal ideology, social interactions, media, availability, cost, time constrains, familiarity, habit, advertising and health, food trends, psychological factors and lifestyle.
Food preferences i.e. food likes and dislikes also contribute to psychological factors. Skipping major meals can affect eating behaviours and nutritional health during adolescence. Among adolescents, this practice is most common which is likely to affect long term health complications. We know, as a matter of fact, that having breakfast fulfills our 1/3rd calories of the whole day. However, if skipped, it may lead to loss of these calories.
According to a survey - “Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individual (CSFII)” – that was held in 1989-91, about 20 per cent of adolescent boys and 24pc of adolescent girls skipped breakfast on the day of survey.
Nonetheless, lifestyle factors play an important role to help consumers to make good decisions including food selection and food trends. These unhealthy patterns of diet lead to multiple diseases that could be fatal if left unaddressed. One of the most common among these is obesity.
Obesity is a multifaceted problem that is correlated to a number of social, cultural and environmental features. Dietary behaviour is widely considered one of the most important modifiable contributors to the obesity. When we correlate fast food and natural food, we come to know that fast food contains high percentage of energy from fat and less frequent consumption of fiber and fruits. This may result in potentially increased body weight total energy intake, percentage of energy from fat and decrease physical activity.
All our hopes are based upon on our younger generation - children and youngsters. When they start let down them, and then major disasters took place in the form of early evidences of chronic diseases and can be a national debate on advertising to vulnerable populations.
Another unhealthy form of practice, particularly among females, is noticed to be skipping of breakfast for several reasons.
According to a survey on female’s dietary habits, 42% girls skipped their breakfast due to lack of time and 75% girls snacking on fast foods.
75% girls snack between major meals. 24% snack upon fruits/fruit juices/milk shakes, 18.7% upon biscuits/bread, 37.3% upon fried foods and 20% snack upon sweets/chocolates/ice-cream/cakes.
When we talk about dairy products, we come to know that only 22.7% always had milk/yogurt. When talk about food preferences, 72% had homemade preferences, 5.3% had packaged and processed food preferences and 22% had fast food preferences.
Dealing with fruit consumption, 25% females never had fruit, 33.5% had once a week, 34.7% had 2-4 times/week and 6% had 6 or more times a week.
The study concludes that dietary habits of the female students are not regular and they skip major meals, especially breakfast, and the over consumption of fast food leading towards obesity.
Therefore, in a country like Pakistan, where there is no proper attention to nutritious lifestyle, there remains a huge challenge to launch awareness campaigns at different levels to help improve the dietary habits. The role of media, in this regard, holds an extreme importance. Media should play a key role in reducing and enhancing of anything. The government could also play its role where it should make such policies that media promotes healthy eating patterns. This, in practice, will lead to a better knowledge to choose appropriate and useful food that will encourage heath and growth among general public.

The writer is a student at Dr. of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore, and can be reached at taila.arif31@gmail.com.