Perceptions About Health, Nutrition Knowledge, and MyPlate Food Categorization Among US Adolescents: A Qualitative Study

J Nutr Educ Behav. 2021 Feb;53(2):110-119. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2020.11.008. Epub 2020 Dec 24.


Objective: To understand how adolescents define related nutrition terms and use food groups to classify commonly consumed foods into the MyPlate food groups.

Design: Qualitative study with telephone interviews.

Setting: Houston metropolitan area in Texas.

Participants: A convenience sample of 21 adolescents from a volunteer database of the research center.

Main outcomes measures: Sociodemographic questions were asked before semiquantitative structured interviews. The interview focused on understanding how adolescents defined health, other nutrition terms, and food groups, and how to use the MyPlate icon in categorizing commonly consumed foods into groups.

Analysis: Hybrid thematic approach with inductive and deductive analyses.

Results: Adolescents defined being healthy in terms of wellness-type behaviors (eg, diet, physical activity, and sleep). They perceived clear differences between terms such as healthy vs unhealthy food but struggled to define others (eg, energy-dense foods and processed foods). Mixed dishes, hard candies, chocolate chip cookies, and potato chips were the most difficult foods for the adolescents to classify into the MyPlate food groups, whereas apple, lettuce, and milk were easily classified.

Conclusions and implications: Food guidance systems, public health policies, and behavioral nutrition programs targeting adolescents might use health and nutrition terms and prescriptive food categories more clearly understood by adolescents.

Keywords: MyPlate; adolescents; food policy; health; nutrition; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Diet*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Perception
  • Qualitative Research
  • United States