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Adolescence is the second most rapid period of growth and development (the first being the first year of life), which leads to increased energy and nutrient Adequate nutrition during adolescence ensures sexual maturation, linear growth, and peak bone mass. (UPI/Corbis Bettmann) needs. Physical activity influences adolescents' growth and body composition as well as their propensity for obesity. Inadequate nutrition can delay sexual maturation, slow or stop linear growth and compromise peak bone mass as well as cognitive development, with the latter possibly affecting learning, concentration, and school performance. Studies continue to show that students achieve higher test scores if they consume a meal before the test. A boy's physical maturation tends to increase his satisfaction with his body because of increased size and muscular development. In contrast, a girl's physical maturation tends to decrease body satisfaction. Reassurance that fat accumulation in the hips, thigh, and buttocks is normal during adolescence will help to allay this anxiety.

Healthy eating habits, such as eating breakfast and not skipping meals, should continue to be promoted. Healthful food choices that are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid should be encouraged. Adolescents become more independent and make more of their own food choices. Parents should be encouraged to provide a variety of healthful foods at home and to make family mealtimes a priority.

In the average adolescent's diet, the intake of folate, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins A and B6 is inadequate. Consumption of green leafy and dark orange vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fortified breakfast cereals, and low-fat dairy products will provide these nutrients and should be advocated. Although vitamin and mineral supplements can appear to be an easy solution, these do not provide other nutrients, such as fiber, which are found naturally in food. The best insurance for good health is to eat a variety of foods and enough to meet daily needs. In-take of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar tends to be excessive. Obesity is an increasingly prevalent problem among adolescents and is contributed to by little physical activity and intake of high caloric, low-nutrient foods. Other nutritional concerns include inadequate intake of fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich foods; excessive intake of soft drinks; unsafe weight loss practices; iron-deficiency anemia in girls; eating disorders; and hyperlipidemia, including high blood cholesterol.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 6Nutrition - Infancy, Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, Adolescence, Government Nutrition Assistance Programs