Nutrition for Teenage
Having an adolescent at home can amaze us in quite a many ways. They not only undergo startling physical alterations and growth during their teenage years but also their food preference and behaviour change drastically. Many of us feel like walking on the knife’s edge during this critical and sensitive phase of our children.
Growth and Development
Puberty is the period during which a child matures into an adult physically. After the child's first birthday it is only during adolescence that we can see rapid growth rate in children again. Girls start accumulating more fat during puberty while they had been having similar body composition as boys till then. Also they start to undergo the pubertal process almost two years earlier than boys. Girls who have early menarche grow more after their menstruation than the ones who have a late menarche. Though the pubertal process may happen over a span of 5 to 7 years, maximum changes occur over a time period of 18 to 24 months.
Assessment of Growth
Children grow in height and weight steadily through their adolescence. This growth pattern can be studied by plotting the values in a graph and looking into marked variations, if any. The term ‘BMI’ referring to Body Mass Index has been used by medical practitioners to determine a person’s weight status and fat percentage. This data helps to identify undernourished and overweight children and correct them with the required dietary changes.
Sexual Maturity Rating
Every child is unique in its own way. This is true in the case of physical growth of the adolescent too. Age alone cannot be the determining factor in evaluating pubertal growth. Maturation of secondary sexual characters helps in assessing physical growth and detects the presence of any disorders. This maturity is rated on a scale of 1(prepubertal) to 5(adult). Any abnormalities in normal growth can be comprehended with these ratings and clinical counseling can help the individual rectify them.
We treat adolescent period as the more crucial phase in a child’s life as maturity happens not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. This maturity happens through three stages. Parents would always prefer the first stage, early adolescence, as children believe and depend on them for suggestions and feedbacks. The word ‘body image’ holds primary importance and the teenager is willing to do anything that would boost this image. The second stage, middle adolescence, is when the tides shift in favour of the teenager’s friends as they become his/her role model. The child wants to be treated as an independent entity, is choosy about the food consumed and starts eating out frequently. In the last stage, late adolescence, the child has established a unique body image, becomes independent, is open to ideas and suggestions on nutrition and plans his future with interest.
As teenagers crave for a perfect body they may get into dangerous physical activities and dietary manipulations which should be avoided to prevent unwanted health changes.
Energy and Protein requirement of every individual is different. Physical exercise, growth rate and stage of maturation decide the quantity of these nutrients needed by an individual.
Vitamins and Minerals play a pivotal role in the growth and health of adolescents. Decreased intake of fruits and vegetables (national recommendation: 5 servings/day) may lead to certain cancer types and other diseases.
Adolescents need twice the amount of minerals like calcium, iron and zinc incorporated into their body for bone density, haemoglobin and sexual maturation respectively.
Vitamin A, C, D, E, B6, B12 and folic acid are important vitamins needed for growth. These vitamins, required for smooth functioning of our body, can be replenished by eating a balanced diet.
The sad reality is that though a well-balanced diet is sufficient in consuming most of the required nutrients, many adolescents lack one or more of these nutrients required for normal growth. Instead they have high levels of fat stored which may lead to obesity.
Skipping meals, eating junk food and crash diets are some of the food habits of adolescents. Family, friends, media and society influence these habits to a great extent.
Teenagers, especially girls tend to skip a meal or two often. Breakfast and lunch are neglected generally. The funniest reason given by an adolescent for this behaviour is lack of time. They project themselves as busy bees with no time for food and nutrition. This result in unhealthy snacking from fast food joints which lack in iron, calcium, vitamin and folic acid content. Also the catchy advertisements on television and magazines play a dominant role in establishing the eating habits of teenagers. Counseling is a must for these people to impart the importance of balanced diets, healthy meals and right choice of food while eating outside. Eating outside can also result in eating right if chosen wisely.
Situations with Special Needs
Suggested weight gain for pregnant adolescents is marginally higher than adults. Teenage girls who get pregnant after their very first menstrual cycle are at a greater physiological risk and may become obese later. Intake of nutrient-rich food by the pregnant teenager ensures correct weight gain. But the main problem is the low economic status of these girls which does not guarantee adequate food supply. Doctor’s help comes in handy during these times to provide information on food banks, women self-help groups and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Eating disorder is the third most common chronic disease among adolescents after obesity and asthma. Complications in growth, brain development and bone density are almost permanent outcomes of these disorders. Only if detected early and treated vigorously the impact can be minimized. Teenagers can be screened for this disease through a series of questions to start treatment at early stages for long-term advantage.
There is an upsurge in adolescents affected by obesity. Causes for this are genetics, physical inactivity and environmental and psychosocial factors. An obese adolescent is most likely to become an obese adult. If an overweight adolescent is identified promptly, treatment can be successful. Obese individuals are prone to coronary heart diseases and atherosclerosis. Arthritis in women and colorectal cancer in men are other long-term consequences. Teenagers are often tempted to go for crash diet programs, drugs and equipments that have harmful side effects. Instead a unique plan for every obese individual depending on their body condition is the key solution for this problem.
Most of the cardiovascular diseases start from childhood. These may also be indirect results of other major diseases. For example, obesity is associated with high blood pressure and adverse serum lipoprotein changes which may ignite cardiovascular problems. Adolescents should adapt to healthy lifestyle changes and involve themselves in vigorous physical activity to prevent these diseases.
In today’s competitive world, athletes perform under pressure to achieve stellar results. This tempts them to use supplements and undergo inappropriate weight management programs which can affect their health drastically. Liquid consumption is critical to prevent dehydration in young athletes. Heat illness is the second cause for death in noncardiac cases. Teens prone to dehydration must be closely watched when involved in physical activity but not be prevented from performing.
Is your teenagers always complaining of pimples and blemished skin?? Don’t panic as many other parents are sailing in the same boat as you. Many adolescents have acne problem with varying intensity. Though dietary factors were thought to be the culprits, it is actually not so. Oral antibiotics and external lotions are perfect medications to treat acne. Also including Vitamin A in your diet helps to reduce the occurrence of acne.
Strategies for Improving Nutritional Well-Being
If something needs improvement it must first be assessed. Nutritional status of teens can be determined through key factors like age and state of maturity. Environmental factors such as family, friends, school and lifestyle must also be taken into account before assessing. If change is required after assessment the teenager should be willing to adapt to slight modifications in nutritional intake. You can consider half the bridge crossed if the child is eager to change for the better. Encouragement and a straightforward approach from parents and clinicians are key factors for positive outcome through this change.