We all know the myths of adolescence: they sleep too much, party hard and indulge in fatty, fried and sugar-filled foods. As parents, we may feel our ability to control their lives, including their nutrition, is suddenly diminishing. While kids may be able to make unhealthy choices outside of the home, it is still very much advised that we try our best to instill healthy values in them within our control. And now science is underlining why this is so important.
A study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that a higher intake of dietary fiber in girls during adolescence, reduced their breast cancer risk later in life. The greatest apparent benefit, as revealed by a large and long-running study of women’s nutrition, was found amongst women who ate larger quantities of fruits and vegetables in adolescence. The high intake of fibre during adolescence was found to reduce overall risk of breast cancer by 16%, and to reduce the risk of breast cancer before menopause by 24%.
This is an important finding that goes to underline why it is crucial that parents provide their kids with a foundation of healthy nutrition. Not only does it guide their own choices as they are afforded more agency in adolescence and young adulthood - it sets them up for a lifetime of healthy choices - but it is now increasingly clear that early lifestyle factors influence long-term health outcomes.
More research is clearly needed to tease apart why an increase in beneficial fiber reduces breast cancer risk. The authors suggest fibre-rich foods may reduce estrogen levels in the blood, which are linked with the development of breast cancer. What I find most interesting about this study; however, is the importance it places on nutrition choices starting at a young age. I encourage parents to gather the resources and support systems they need in order to provide healthy and balanced food options beginning in babyhood, through childhood and into adolescence. Bring only healthy and nutritious food into the home, and provide balanced meals that can be shared together as a family. Children will come to love the food that is provided to them most often (yes, they will request carrots) and there is a place for treats as occasional indulgences. Foster a healthy relationship with food yourself, and model nutritious choices. Always be aware that they are watching! And that your choices as parents today, and their choices from adolescence onward, affect and shape their future health outcomes.