In general, a person between the ages of 13 and 20 is considered an adolescent. Adolescence is a period of rapid growth that causes major changes. It tends to begin between the ages of 10 and 13 in girls and between 13 and 16 in boys. The growth rate may be 3 inches a year for girls and 4 inches for boys. Bones grow and gain density, muscle and fat tissue develop, and blood volume increases. Sexual maturity occurs. Boys’ voices change, girls experience the onset of menses, and both may experience acne. Acne is not caused by specific foods but by overactivity of the sebaceous glands of the skin.
These changes are obvious and have a tremendous effect on an adoles-cent’s psychosocial development. No two individuals will develop in the same way. One girl may become heavier than she might like, another may be thin, a boy may not develop the muscle or the height he desires, and some may develop serious complexion problems. It can be a time of great joy, but it also can be a time when counseling is needed.
Adolescents, especially boys, typically have enormous appetites. When good eating habits have been established during childhood and there is nutritious food available, the teenager’s food habits should present no serious problem.
Adolescents are imitators, like children, but instead of imitating adults, adolescents prefer to imitate their peers and do what is popular. Unfortunately, the foods that are popular often have low nutrient density such as potato chips, sodas, and candy. These foods provide mainly carbohydrates and fats and very little protein, vitamins, and minerals, except for salt, which is usually provided in excess. Adolescents’ eating habits can be seriously affected by busy sched-ules, part-time jobs, athletics, social activities, and the lack of an available adult to prepare nutritious food when adolescents are hungry or have time to eat.
When the adolescent’s food habits need improvement, it is wise for the adult to tactfully inform her or him of nutritional needs and of the poor nutri-tion quality of the foods she or he is eating. The adolescent has a natural desire for independence and may resent being told what to do.
Before attempting to change an adolescent’s food habits, carefully check her or his food choices for nutrient content. It is too easily assumed that because the adolescent chooses the food, the food is automatically a poor choice in regard to nutrient content. It might be a good choice. An adolescent who has a problem maintaining an appropriate weight may need some advice regarding diet.
Because of adolescents’ rapid growth, calorie requirements naturally increase. Boys’ calorie requirements tend to be greater than girls’ because boys are generally bigger, tend to be more physically active, and have more lean muscle mass than do girls.Except for vitamin D, nutrient needs increase dramatically at the onset of adolescence. Because of menstruation, girls have a greater need for iron than do boys. The DRIs for vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorus, and iodine are the same for both sexes. The DRIs for the remaining nutrients are higher for boys than they are for girls.