Amid a table full of trays stacked with tortilla chips at Moe’s Southwest Grill in Augusta, Shelby Kenrick proudly holds up a bag of apple slices. The 17-year-old from North Augusta is also the rare teen who thinks about fiber.
“That’s what I eat for breakfast,” she said, in the form of fiber bars.
Not many teens in Augusta are following her example, and it could have serious health consequences, said researchers at the Georgia Prevention Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University.
A study of more than 550 adolescents ages 14-18 recruited from Augusta high schools found that on average they got about 33 percent of the adequate amount of daily fiber, according to the report published online this month ahead of print in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Lower fiber intake was associated with an increase in visceral adipose tissue — or belly fat — and markers for increased inflammation, the study found. That kind of chronic inflammation is associated with the potential to develop health problems such as diabetes.
“Both high levels of inflammatory markers and high levels of visceral fat are associated with insulin insensitivity,” said co-author Dr. Norman Pollock, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the institute at GHSU, a condition that can lead to diabetes
It is the first study to look at the impact of fiber intake in adolescents, he said. But the evidence of a growing problem in teens is already out there. A study published online last week in the journal Pediatrics found the rate of teens with diabetes or pre-diabetes increased from 9 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2008.
“That’s a dramatic increase in prevalence in U.S. adolescents,” Pollock said. And part of the problem could be diet.
“A lot of literature out there suggests that adolescents are not getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diet,” he said. “That could be one big reason they are not getting the recommended amounts of fiber.”
The next step could be looking at ways to get more fiber in teens’ diets, which can be tricky, Pollock said.
“We can’t get the kids to eat fruits and vegetables and that’s another issue altogether,” he said. One idea is to try adding a powder to their food or giving them fortified yogurt or smoothies, said Pollock, whose group is looking for a grant to try an interventional study. Whatever the solution is, it has to be their choice to do it, he said.
“They have to like it,” Pollock said.
For Kelly Tinsley, 17, of North Augusta, fruits and vegetables are part of her home life.
“My parents are vegetarians, so I have to,” she said.