(Family Features) - Recent research fielded by the United States Potato Board (USPB) found that the gap between actual and perceived nutrition knowledge among American adolescents is wide and could be compromising their food choices.
This is particularly true when it comes to the official FDA Nutrition Facts Label; many young adolescents view them as not only confusing but irrelevant to their lives.
In a national poll of 400 12-14 year olds, two-thirds of survey respondents assigned themselves a grade of "A" or "B" for understanding the information on nutrition labels. Yet, when asked "If you wanted to eat more nutritious meals, which of the following sources would be most helpful?" only 19% answered "Nutrition labels on foods."
USPB focus groups conducted with young adolescents shed light on specific elements of nutrition labels that are considered confusing. Few participants understood the meaning of "daily value," a concept that's essential to making sense of the label. One participant said, "I read nutrition labels when I'm bored and it's in front of me, but I don't know what they mean." Another quipped, "I haven't a clue what a daily value is, but that's okay because I don't care."
This laissez-faire attitude towards nutrition was echoed in the national survey. A large portion of young adolescents polled stated that they "do not care" about the carbohydrates (49%), calories (46%), potassium (42%), or sodium (41%) they obtain from the foods they eat.
The lack of nutrition knowledge is clearly demonstrated by these young adolescents' opinions about two common foods: potatoes and bananas. Even though they are a favorite food of young adolescents, the positive nutrition value of potatoes was underestimated by most survey respondents.
When compared to a banana, a food that's considered "healthy," 87 percent of respondents were unaware that a potato contained more potassium (720 mg per serving of potato versus 400 mg per serving of banana); 76 percent believed that a potato contained more calories when, actually, a medium potato contains 100 calories versus a banana's 110. A whopping 87 percent thought a banana was a better source of vitamin C; in truth, a medium potato contains 45 percent of the recommended daily value for this essential nutrient, a banana has 15 percent.
The youngsters in the focus groups were surprised to learn that their beloved potatoes are full of essential vitamins and minerals. One participant said, "I thought only fruits had vitamin C in them," another exclaimed, "Wow! We need to respect the spud!" Reacting to their surprise, Linda McCashion, v.p. of the USPB said, "If these young adolescents were more comfortable with nutrition labels, they might make wiser food choices."
The USPB aims to familiarize youngsters with nutrition labels. Registered dietitians worked with educators at Scholastic Inc. to create a nutrition label poster and education unit that's downloadable, free, from www.healthypotato.com. While visiting, check out kid-friendly potato recipes like Potato Nachos and Smashed Potato Pizza.