Health

Adolescents and Young Adults: Facing the Challenges

INTRODUCTION

Adolescence, the period of life between 10 and 19 years of age (1), is a time of physical, psychological, and social development as the child transitions into adulthood. Nutritional needs are influenced by increased rate of growth and physical development, sexual maturation, and changing lifestyle that can impact nutrient intake. Promoting healthy food patterns during adolescence is an important consideration as these practices can track into adulthood.

GROWTH

Adolescents experience a gain in height and weight at a rate not seen since infancy. During puberty, male and female sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) promote the periods of accelerated growth (growth spurts) during which 15–25% of final adult height can be gained (2). Because the age of onset of puberty varies considerably, chronological age alone is not useful in assessing growth. Sexual maturation rating, also called Tanner stages, is used to evaluate growth and development based on the degree of development of secondary sexual characteristics, regardless of chronological age.

ENERGY AND NUTRIENT REQUIREMENT

Nutritional needs vary depending on velocity of growth, sexual maturation, and degree of physical activity. The dietary reference intakes (DRI) provide a guideline for acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) and recommended daily allowances (RDA) for micronutrients based on chronological age. Nutrition recommendations should be individualized based on SMR, rate of growth, and estimated energy expenditure.

PROMOTING HEALTHY FOOD HABITS

As adolescents transition from child to adulthood, they become more autonomous in their food behavior. Several factors influence food behavior including peer standards, body image, food culture/advertising, constraints of a busy lifestyle that impact time available for meals, and “24/7”availability of high-energy/low nutrient-dense foods.

Conclusion

Adolescence is a period of remarkable physical and psychosocial growth and development that impact nutritional needs. Primary care physicians and allied health professionals can play a critical role in assessing and addressing risk behaviors. Addressing the challenges of adolescent food habits can have immediate and long-term influence on health and wellness.

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