How Can Eating Unhealthy Be Bad for Teenagers?

As teenagers grow and develop, they need nutrients from healthy foods to support their bodies. For example, teenagers need calcium for building strong bones, protein for muscle growth, Vitamin A for healthy eyesight, and so much more! Unhealthy foods can frequently take the place of more nutrient-dense foods that your body needs during the teenage years. 

Frequent consumption of unhealthy foods in teenagers has been linked to concentration issues, low energy, trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety, eating disorders, weight gain, constipation, and more. Rather than focusing too much on what foods to avoid, focus more on adding lots of nutrient dense foods to your diet and things will naturally fall into place to support your overall health. 

Read on to find out more about the negative effects of junk food, how overall health is affected by diet choices, and tips for teenagers to eat healthier!

Negative Effects of Too Much Junk Food on Teens

I don’t love the term “junk food” because it insinuates that the food is bad or pointless. Sometimes junk food is just what we need for our emotional and mental well-being! 

It is referred to as “junk food” because it often doesn’t have the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients that some other foods do have. Additionally, it is usually higher in sodium, sugar, and/or fat. Diets high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium have been linked to health issues like:

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol 
  • Obesity
  • Eating Disorders

However, teenagers aren’t usually thinking far enough into the future to be too concerned about those potential issues quite yet. But there are other consequences that come with eating a lot of junk food as well. Some of them are more immediate consequences, and ones that you can see improvements in more quickly as you improve your eating habits.

  • Increased Anxiety and depression
  • Low energy
  • Poor performance in school
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased sports performance
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Etc.

However, an obsession with eating healthy can also cause issues. If eating junk food causes feelings of guilt and shame or fear, work with a registered dietitian to overcome some of those feelings and view food in a more healthy way.

Common Bad Food Habits for Teens

The teenage years bring more independence and self-discovery, and along with that, teenagers may develop some eating habits that are less than desirable. Here are a few common food habits that teenagers have, and some tips for overcoming them!

Eating While Distracted 

Teenagers lose touch with their body when they are distracted while eating. As much as they can, teens should put the phones away and turn off the television so that they can really focus on listening to their body and enjoy the eating experience. 

Teens should be able to focus on their five senses as they eat. As teenagers eat mindfully, they will be more likely to consume healthy foods, and stop eating when they are feeling satisfied.

Frequent Eating Out 

Let me emphasize that eating out is NOT a bad thing when done in moderation. Going out to eat with friends can be an extremely rewarding experience where memories are made and good times are had. 

However, if this becomes more of a frequent pattern, consider suggesting that your friends come to your house and make a meal together. If you go out to eat with friends for lunch, consider packing your own lunch to take with you so that you can still be there for the experience. Not only is this a healthier option, but it will save a lot of money too!

Focus on making smart food decisions when you do go out to eat. Choose foods that will satisfy you, but that will also make you feel good and feel energized!

Skipping Breakfast

I know a lot of teenagers that skip breakfast. Sometimes it is because they are late for school and in a rush to get out the door, while some teens just don’t feel hungry in the morning. Your body might have gotten used to skipping breakfast, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to keep doing it. 

After you have been in a fasted state throughout the night while you sleep, eating food in the morning is one way to tell your body to wake up and get going! If you expect your body to be able to 100% when you wake up, you must give it energy to work with.

Skipping breakfast often makes teenagers feel sluggish and have trouble concentrating. It can also impair sports performance and can even lead to overeating later in the day.

Gravitating Towards “Junk Food” For Snacks

Remember, I put “junk food” in quotes because it doesn’t mean that it is bad to eat those kinds of foods. However, they are not going to be the most nourishing snacks and they probably won’t make you feel good in the long run.

When choosing a snack, make sure you get a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to help you feel energized and satisfied. Some healthy snack ideas are listed below. Get creative and try something new!

  • Wheat thins and a cheese stick
  • Crackers and peanut butter
  • Apple with almond butter
  • Greek yogurt with granola and berries
  • Trail mix 
  • Nuts and a banana
  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Pretzels and cheese
  • Ham and cheese on a roll
  • Peppers and ranch dressing
  • Beef Jerky and strawberries
  • Protein bar and a fruit smoothie
  • Fruit smoothie made with greek yogurt

Eating Late at Night

Contrary to popular belief, eating at night is not necessarily bad for you. If your body is hungry after dinner, you should honor that hunger and have a snack.

However, many of the foods that we are drawn towards are not the healthiest and not the greatest choice right before going to bed. Sometimes we just eat while we hang out with friends or watch TV, even if we aren’t really hungry. Foods that teenagers often choose late at night include ice cream, cookies, chips, popsicles, chocolate, candy, and other things. 

If you do get hungry, try to have a snack that has protein in it to keep you feeling satisfied as you drift off to sleep. Having a lot of sugars right before bed might make it difficult for you to relax and get a good night’s rest.

Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables

Teenagers need lots of vitamins and minerals to feel their best and strengthen their active and growing body. However, fruits and veggies are not always a teenager’s go-to choice for snacks and meals.

If you struggle with eating fruits and vegetables, there are a few things you can try. First, just start somewhere! You don’t have to make a crazy goal right away.

Maybe you try eating one of each a day and then once that becomes a habit, try and increase your goal. You could also try eating a fruit or vegetable every time you eat.

It also might help if fruits and vegetables are washed, cut up, and individually packaged. That way you can grab a healthy snack even on your way out the door!

How is Overall Health Affected By Diet Choices?

I encourage you to see for yourself how much your overall health is affected by your diet choices. When you try to make healthier choices, notice how it makes you feel, where your energy levels are at, how fast you are able to recover, your performance in sports, how well you sleep, and anything else you might notice!

Recognizing the small things that come because of healthy eating habits can also be a great motivator to continue making healthy choices!

In addition to those things you might notice initially, remember that your eating choices now also have an impact on your future health. Your risk of disease significantly decreases when you develop healthy eating patterns as a teenager. As you develop a pattern of healthy eating, those habits will likely follow you throughout the rest of your life!

Mental health is another huge aspect of overall health that is affected by eating habits. Your ability to deal with stress, and levels of anxiety and depression are impacted by the foods you choose.


Consistently choosing unhealthy foods can have negative effects on teenagers. It can affect stress, energy, sleep, mood, and more! The teenage years are also a really important time to build healthy eating habits that will stick with you into adulthood.

Eating does not have to be perfect in order to be healthy. The best practice is to find a balance of eating healthy and delicious foods that bring satisfaction and joy to the body and mind. That will likely include some “junk food” in moderation!

Rather than focusing on what you should stop eating, I encourage teens to start thinking more about what healthy foods they can add! As you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body, you will naturally have the desire to nourish and take care of your body!


Thomas L. How fast food affects children’s health. Updated August 23, 2018.

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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