Nutrition in Adolescents


Adolescence is a period of rapid growth and metabolism. At this stage, teenagers have much interest in their physical and emotional development and their nutrition requirements are higher than those for adult men and women, with corresponding higher allowances for most vitamins and minerals. These increases are to satisfy the increased nutrient needs caused by their adolescent growth spurt.


Nutrition Issues in Adolescents

During adolescence there is a high susceptibility to nutritional deficiencies and poor eating habits. This may lead to problems later on in life such as osteoporosis, obesity, hyperlipedemia, sexual maturation delays, and final adult height. 
The development of eating disorders is also prominent during this time. Eating disorders are common among teens whose food choices are influenced by society´s pressures to have the ideal look. Some eating disorders are classified as anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating or binge eating. Both anorexia and bulimia can lead to convulsions, kidney failure, irregular heartbeats, osteoporosis and dental erosion. Adolescents suffering from compulsive overeating disorder are at risk for heart attack, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, kidney disease, arthritis, and stroke.

Benefits of healthy eating in adolescents

  • Proper nutrition promotes the optimal growth and development of children and adolescents.
  • Healthy eating helps prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure and helps reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Healthy eating helps reduce one´s risk for developing obesity, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, and dental caries (cavities).
  • Eating a healthy is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), improved mood reduced absenteeism, and better performance in school


Consequences of a Poor Diet

  • A poor diet can lead to energy imbalance (e.g., eating more calories than one expends through physical activity) and can increase one´s risk for overweight and obesity.
  • A poor diet can increase the risk for lung, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
  • Individuals who eat fast food several times in a week are at increased risk for weight gain, overweight, and obesity.
  • Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can result in weight gain, overweight, and obesity. 
  • Reduced food intake (anorexia nervosa) and disrupted eating patterns might increase the risk for lower dietary quality and under nutrition. In turn, under nutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and school performance.
  • There is substantial evidence that inadequate diets affect adolescents´ ability to learn and work at maximum productivity. Under nutrition increases the risk of poor obstetric outcomes for teen mothers and jeopardizes the healthy development of their future children. 


Tips for eating healthy in adolescents

1. Breakfast is a very important meal

Your body needs energy after a long sleep so breakfast is vital. Foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as bread, breakfast cereal and fruit, make good breakfast choices. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can lead to out-of-control hunger, often resulting in careless overeating. Skipping breakfast can also cause you to lack concentration for schoolwork. 


2. Eat lots a variety of foods

Lots of different foods every day is the recipe for good health. You need 40 different vitamins and minerals for good health and no one food can supply all of them. There are no "good" or "bad" foods so you don't need to miss out on foods you enjoy. Just make sure you get the right balance by eating a wide variety of foods. Balance your choice over time! 


3. Carbohydrates

These foods provide needed energy, vitamins and minerals. Foods that are high in carbohydrates include pasta, breads, sweet potatoes, maize, fruits and vegetables. Try to include some of these foods at very meal as nearly half of the calories in your diet should come from them. 


4. Eat fruits and vegetables at each meal

You can enjoy fruits and vegetables at meals and as tasty snacks. These foods provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. You should aim to get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.


5. Fat facts

Everyone needs some fat in the diet for good health .However too much fat, especially saturated fat, can be bad for our health. Saturated fat is found in full fat dairy foods, pies, pastries, fatty meats and sausages. Avid fried foods like French fries, and eat healthy meals cooked at home.


6. Quench your thirst

You need to drink plenty of liquids because half of your body is made up of water. At least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid day are needed, more if it is very hot or you are exercising. Avoid carbonated drinks like sodas by all means. They contain very high sugar levels and bad for your long-term health. 


7. Exercise

Exercise is important for healthy hearts and strong bones so get active. Try to do exercise every day and make sure it is something you enjoy so you stick with it. Too many calories and not enough activity can result in weight gain. Physical activity helps burn off those extra calories. Teenagers also need to watch their calcium supply because without calcium you can develop osteoporosis, which causes bones to become brittle and break easily. Iron is also a very important mineral in adolescents and its deficiency can lead to anemia.

Information Source Links

  • Ministry of Medical Services, GOK. Kenya National Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics Reference manual.Nairobi, Kenya: Ministry of Medical Services Republic of Kenya; (2010).
  • Sharon R, Kathryn P, Ellie W.Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition.8th edition.USA: Yolanda cossio; (2008).
  • May 2012

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