Since many nutrition studies usually focus on a food’s effects or relationship to health, not on quality of life, it’s interesting to consider how food may affect emotional, social or academic aspects of life. In a workshop on Food Literacy last year, Sonya Grier, Ph.D., MBA, reminded the audience, “Food is so much more than a plate of nutrients. When it’s done right, food is well-being.” So when I ran across a new study conducted among adolescents in Australia about dairy food consumption and health-related quality of life, I was intrigued.
Only a few studies have suggested that lifestyle habits might influence health-related quality of life in children and adolescents – and this is the first study to investigate the relationship between habitual dairy consumption and health-related quality of life in youth in the long term. Researchers conducted a five-year prospective study to evaluate whether eating dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese) regularly was related to quality of life in adolescent boys and girls from age 12 to 17. The findings of this novel, exploratory study were interesting, especially for yogurt:
- Adolescent boys who remained in the highest category of yogurt consumption from age 12 to 17 had a higher overall quality of life and mental well-being scores at the end of five years.
- Boys with the highest vs. the lowest yogurt consumption had 4.7, 5.9 and 9.1 units higher total score, psychosocial health summary and school functioning scores, respectively.
- Among girls, no significant associations were observed between consumption of milk, yogurt or cheese and quality of life.
Since the study was observational (not cause and effect) in nature, we don’t know exactly why yogurt was associated with improved quality of life or why a significant association was not seen in girls – though the girls may not have eaten enough dairy foods to see a significant association. Overall, more research is needed in this emerging area of nutrition.
Whatever the mechanism, it’s interesting to consider that promoting adequate consumption of dairy foods, especially yogurt, might benefit adolescent boys socially, academically or emotionally. Yogurt -- containing calcium, high quality protein and other nutrients – is a great option for growing teens, many of whom are not eating the recommended amount of dairy foods, that can be a key contributor of calcium and vitamin D, they need to help reach their full bone mass potential.
That’s reason enough to look for ways to fit more low-fat or fat-free yogurt into a teen’s busy lifestyle:
- Replace some snacks and desserts that are not nutrient dense with their favorite yogurt for after school or sports, at bedtime or for a quick breakfast.
- Whether drinkable, Greek or regular, look for yogurts with new and interesting flavors and ingredient combinations such as nuts, oatmeal, dried fruit or whole grain cereal or let them add their own mix-ins
- Keep a small blender or shaker handy for making a yogurt smoothie anytime hunger strikes. This Banana Split Smoothie can be fun to make with friends.