Teenage girls risking health by not consuming enough vitamins and minerals

New government data(1) has shown a substantial proportion of girls aged 11-18 years are risking their health with intake of minerals well below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI), together with consuming low levels of vitamins.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) found 44 per cent of girls aged 11-18 years and 22 per cent of women aged 19-64 years had mean iron intakes of below the LRNI. Teenage girls are also only eating half their recommended portions of fruit and vegetables.

The NDNS is a continuous cross-sectional survey, designed to assess the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population aged 18 months upwards living in private households in the UK. The NDNS involves an interview, a four-day dietary diary and blood and urine samples.

Furthermore, the results revealed mean intakes of magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium were below the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for children with 50 per cent of teenage girls having magnesium intake below the LRNI. Mean intakes of vitamin D were lower across most age and sex groups, adding to the ongoing deficiency.  

Maureen Strong, senior nutritionist with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, said: “This new data re-confirms that a significant proportion of teenage girls are compromising their health by having a restrictive intake of iron in their diet.  By limiting their consumption of foods rich in iron such as red meat they are doubly disadvantaging themselves.  Having a low iron status can cause anaemia and one of the symptoms of this is fatigue which in turn limits cognitive function, maybe affecting important examinations.” 

Most people in the UK obtain the majority of their vitamin D by exposure of skin to sunlight(2).  Low vitamin D levels are now common in the UK and many do not obtain enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure.  As there are few dietary sources of vitamin D(3), red meat plays an important part of your diet as it contains easily utilised vitamin D.  

For more information and advice on the role of meat in your diet please go to meatandhealth.redmeatinfo.com/health-professionals/red-meat-factsheets

(1) B Bates, A Lennox, C Bates, G Swan. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from Years 1 and 2 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 – 2009/10). Department of Health and Food Standards Agency.
(2) Department of Health (1998). Nutrition and Bone Health; with particular reference to calcium and vitamin D. 49. London: The Stationery Office.
(3) SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). (2007). “Update on vitamin D: Position Statement by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.” Retrieved July, 2010.