Adolescent Nutrition (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health)
Adolescence is a time of increased growth and development, in which a greater need for nutrients coincides with a change in food habits that also influences nutritional needs. Due to differences in body type, physical activity, and rate of growth, every adolescent has different nutritional needs.
It is important to meet such needs during adolescence or ramifications may extend into adulthood. For instance, because bone mass is accumulated through young adulthood and slows dramatically thereafter, inadequate calcium intake may lead to weaker bones throughout life.
During adolescence, bodies are rapidly changing and growing, which often causes teens to feel uncomfortable with themselves, especially if they are different from their peers. Teenagers are more likely to miss meals. Emotional distress may cause them to either eat too much or too little and use diet pills or supplements. Such patterns can lead to the development of eating disorders, which are characterized by unhealthy eating behaviors including starvation, induced vomiting, overusing laxatives, and overeating. Eating disorders usually begin between ages 14 and 20 and are estimated to be the third most common chronic disorder among adolescents. It is important to provide early intervention to avoid serious long-term complications.
Due to variation in physical activity, metabolism, and growth rate, the nutritional needs of adolescents vary from person to person, and should be based on individual needs. However, general recommendations for adolescents can provide guidance. Caloric needs are usually based on the growth rate and level of exercise and should average between 2,200 and 3,000 calories per day. Protein needs are based on height. To determine individual needs, divide the RDA total of protein by the individual's height in centimeters. The average is about 0.3 gm/cm of height. Mineral needs increase during adolescence, especially for calcium and iron. Recommended intake of calcium is 1,300 milligrams (mg) per day; iron requirements are about 10-12 mg for males and 15 mg for females. Zinc, which is needed for growth and sexual development, is also needed in adequate amounts. Requirements for zinc are 15 mg for males and 12 mg for females. Vitamin needs increase during adolescence and the need for supplementation can be avoided by providing a well-balanced diet.
Adolescents may also have special needs, such as chronic illness, substance abuse problems, and pregnancy. Drug abuse often interferes with adequate food choices, but the effects of drugs greatly depends on the substance, amount, and the nutritional status of the adolescent. Adolescents with chronic illness may have increased or decreased needs based on individual circumstances. Pregnant teenagers have increased needs, because they are still growing and developing themselves.
Poor nutrition in adolescence can have important health consequences in adulthood. Obesity and excessive fat intake increases the likelihood of being an overweight adult and puts the individual at risk for cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Substituting sodas and fruit juices for milk at this time of rapid growth and bone-building may lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures during later years. Too much sugar in the diet causes cavities. A diet heavily dependent on fast food results in decreased energy intake, excess fat and sodium, and a deficiency of calcium, riblofloavin, vitamin A, folic acid, and fiber.
A healthy diet in adolescence promotes adequate growth and sexual maturity. A decreased risk of cavities, as well as hypertension and hyperlipidemias in older years, is closely correlated with adequate nutrition during adolescence.
Health care team roles
Dietitians play an important role in educating teenagers about eating well-balanced diets to receive the proper amounts of all the nutrients. When complications such as eating disorders are present, dietitians can also provide the nutritional information necessary to treat the disorder. However, psychologists and other mental health professionals should be consulted to assess the mental and emotional status of the individual.
Mahan, Kathleen L. and Sylvia-Escott Stump. Krause's Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 2000.
Worthington-Roberts, Bonnie S. and Sue Rodwell Williams. Nutrition Throughout the Life Cycle, 4th Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2000.
Lisa M. Gourley