Nutrition For The Teenager

In our culture, the decisions necessary for healthy eating have never been more difficult to navigate than they are right now. Obesity is an epidemic, and so are eating disorders like anorexia. Unhealthy messages about food and body image are inescapable. Low-quality food is cheap and abundant and healthy food is difficult to identify and sometimes expensive to obtain. In this landscape, the task of taking full responsibility for the physical and psychological challenges of a healthy relationship with food can begin in the teenage years and continue into college and beyond, well into adult life.

Challenges to Teenage Nutrition

The teenage body faces unique metabolic challenges. Growth can be rapid during this time, and the requirements of athletics and lost sleep can deplete nutrients that need to be replenished.

Unhealthy options are often more available than ever during this time. Snacks laden with chemical preservatives and high fructose corn syrup can be easier for teenagers to buy and eat on the run than healthier foods, and mealtimes are often irregular to accommodate activity schedules.

But the signature challenge of teenage nutrition is the beginning of autonomy. Parents are still able to regulate some aspects of nutrition for teenagers, but children take a growing share of responsibility at this time for their own health.

Meeting the Challenges of Teenage Nutrition

Teenagers need between 2,200 and 2,800 calories per day, far more than they required prior to puberty. For teenage girls, nutrition shifts during this time are especially significant. Teenage girls require 15 milligrams of iron each day while boys require only 11. Girls and boys also require 1300 milligrams of calcium daily, which equates to three to four servings of calcium-rich food. For many teenage girls, nutrition inadequacies may compromise bone health later in life.

But calorie consumption is not the only solution, since avoiding obesity can be just as difficult as obtaining adequate nutrients. Quality should drive eating decisions, not just quantity.

And of course, psychological issues can interfere with the best laid plans. Teenagers must learn to navigate the unrealistic messages and relentless food advertising directed at them by the media in order to develop a peaceful, balanced and healthy adult relationship with food and eating.

How Parents Can Help Teenagers

Parents have several options for supporting the development of healthy teenage nutrition and eating habits, including:

  • Be available to answer your child’s questions about nutrition and food.
  • Set a good example. Your teenager may seem independent, but he or she still looks to you, consciously and unconsciously, for guidance.
  • Show support for healthy decisions. Again, your opinion may matter more than you realize.
  • Stock the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to bring your family to the table for a healthy meal at least a few times a week.

Resources

Family Education.com. (2010). Your teen’s nutritional needs. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://life.familyeducation.com/teen/foods/48523.html?detoured=1

Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Research for Optimum Healthy. (n.d.) Minerals. Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals.html

United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). MyPyramid.gov for kids: Steps to a healthier you. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://www.mypyramid.gov/

Weight Control Information Network. (2010). Take charge of your health: A guideline for teens. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/take_charge.htm