Public Health Nutrition

Monitoring and surveillance

Food intake of European adolescents in the light of different food-based dietary guidelines: results of the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study

Katharina Diethelma1, Nicole Jankovica1, Luis A Morenoa2, Inge Huybrechtsa3, Stefaan De Henauwa3a4, Tineke De Vriendta3a5, Marcela González-Grossa6, Catherine Leclercqa7, Frédéric Gottranda8, Chantal C Gilberta9, Jean Dallongevillea10, Magdalena Cuenca-Garciaa11, Yannis Maniosa12, Anthony Kafatosa13, María Pladaa13 and Mathilde Kerstinga1 c1 on behalf of the HELENA Study Group

a1 Research Institute of Child Nutrition, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Bonn, Heinstueck 11, D-44225 Dortmund, Germany

a2 GENUD (Growth, Exercise, Nutrition and Development) Research Group, E.U. Ciencias de la Salud, Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain

a3 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

a4 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health Care Vesalius, University College Ghent, Ghent, Belgium

a5 Research Foundation – Flanders, Brussels, Belgium

a6 Department of Health and Human Performance, Faculty of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences (INEF), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

a7 INRAN (National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition), Rome, Italy

a8 Inserm U995, Université Lille 2, Lille, France

a9 Department of Consumer & Sensory Sciences, Campden BRI, Gloucestershire, UK

a10 Inserm U744, Institut Pasteur de Lille, Université Lille Nord de France (UDSL), Lille, France

a11 Department of Medical Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Granada, Granada, Spain

a12 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece

a13 Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Crete, Heraklion, Greece


Objective Since inadequate food consumption patterns during adolescence are not only linked with the occurrence of obesity in youth but also with the subsequent risk of developing diseases in adulthood, the establishment and maintenance of a healthy diet early in life is of great public health importance. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to describe and evaluate the food consumption of a well-characterized sample of European adolescents against food-based dietary guidelines for the first time.

Design The HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study is a cross-sectional study, whose main objective was to obtain comparable data on a variety of nutritional and health-related parameters in adolescents aged 12·5–17·5 years.

Setting Ten cities in Europe.

Subjects The initial sample consisted of more than 3000 European adolescents. Among these, 1593 adolescents (54 % female) had sufficient and plausible dietary data on energy and food intakes from two 24 h recalls using the HELENA-DIAT software.

Results Food intake of adolescents in Europe is not optimal compared with the two food-based dietary guidelines, Optimized Mixed Diet and Food Guide Pyramid, examined in this study. Adolescents eat half of the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables and less than two-thirds of the recommended amount of milk (and milk products), but consume much more meat (and meat products), fats and sweets than recommended. However, median total energy intake may be estimated to be nearly in line with the recommendations.

Conclusion The results urge the need to improve the dietary habits of adolescents in order to maintain health in later life.

(Received February 09 2011)

(Accepted June 14 2011)

(Online publication September 22 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email


See Appendix for full list of HELENA Study Group members.