British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Dietary fatty acid intake, its food sources and determinants in European adolescents: the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) Study

Krishna E. Vynckea1a2 c1, Lars Libudaa3, Tineke De Vriendta1a2, Luis A. Morenoa4, Myriam Van Winckela5, Yannis Maniosa6, Frederic Gottranda7, Denes Molnara8, Barbara Vanaelsta1a2, Michael Sjöströma9, Marcela González-Grossa10a11, Laura Censia12, Kurt Widhalma13, Nathalie Michelsa1, Chantal C. Gilberta14, Christos Xatzisa15, Magdalena Cuenca Garcíaa16, Fátima Pérez de Herediaa17, Stefaan De Henauwa1, Inge Huybrechtsa1 and on behalf of the HELENA consortiuma1 

a1 Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185 - 2 Blok A, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

a2 Research Foundation-Flanders, Egmontstraat 5, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium

a3 Research Institute of Child Nutrition, Dortmund, Germany

a4 GENUD (Growth, Exercise, Nutrition and Development) Research Group, Escuela Universitaria de Ciencias de la Salud, University of Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain

a5 Department of Pediatrics and Medical Genetics, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium

a6 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece

a7 Inserm U995, IFR114, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Lille 2, Lille, France

a8 Department of Pediatrics, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary

a9 Department of Biosciences, Unit for Preventive Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden

a10 Faculty of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, University Polytechnic of Madrid, Madrid, Spain

a11 Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany

a12 INRAN (National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition), Rome, Italy

a13 Department of Pediatrics, Division of Clinical Nutrition and Prevention, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

a14 Department of Consumer and Sensory Sciences, Campden BRI, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, UK

a15 Preventive Medicine and Nutrition Unit, University of Crete School of Medicine, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

a16 Department of Medical Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Granada, Spain

a17 Immunonutrition Research Group, Department of Metabolism and Nutrition, Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition (ICTAN), Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Madrid, Spain


Dietary fatty acids (FA) play a role in several (patho)physiological processes at any age, and different FA have different effects on lipid status and health outcome. The present study aims to describe the FA intake and its main food sources in a population of healthy European adolescents and to assess the variation in intake as a function of non-dietary factors. FA intake was assessed with 24 h recall interviews in 1804 adolescents aged 12·5–17·5 years. Usual intakes were calculated using the multiple source method. Multilevel analyses, adjusting for study centre, were used to investigate the influence of non-dietary factors. The mean total fat intake was 33·3 (sd 1·2) % of total energy intake (%E). The mean SFA intake was 13·8 (sd 1·2) %E, with 99·8 % of the population exceeding the recommendations. SFA was mainly delivered by meat and cake, pies and biscuits. In most adolescents, the PUFA intake was too low, and 35·5 % of the population did not achieve the minimum recommended intake for α-linolenic acid (ALA). The main determinants of FA intake in the present study population were age and sex, as well as physical activity in the male subgroup. No contributions of body composition, socio-economic status or sexual maturation to the variance in FA intake were observed. In conclusion, the most important public health concerns regarding FA intake in this adolescent population were the low intake of ALA and the high intake of SFA, mainly seen in the younger-aged boys. In this group the major contributor to SFA was meat.

(Received November 08 2011)

(Revised January 06 2012)

(Accepted January 16 2012)

(Online publication February 28 2012)

Key Words:

  • Fatty acids;
  • Dietary intake;
  • Food sources;
  • Adolescents


c1 Corresponding author: Krishna Vyncke, fax +32 9 332 49 94, email


  See the Appendix for a full list of the HELENA study group members.

  Abbreviations: ALA, α-linolenic acid; BLS, Bundeslebensmittelschlüssel (German Food Code and Nutrient Data Base); DPA, docosapentaenoic acid; %E, percentage of energy; FA, fatty acid; HELENA, Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence; LA, linoleic acid; MSM, multiple source method; P5, 5th percentile; P95, 95th percentile