At some stage all teenagers go through their adolescent growth spurt. It tends to be later for boys than girls but for most adolescents it will occur sometime between 11 and 17 years.
During the growth spurt, bone length and height increase rapidly and some boys may grow by up to 13cm in a year. Plenty of calories and a good range of nutrients are needed for this growth spurt. In the following few years, although height may no longer increase, the bones are still increasing in density and strength and muscle size is increasing. A good range of nutrients is still needed for this development.
To optimise nutrition during the adolescent years the same principles of combining foods from the five food groups is important.
Fast food chosen carefully can be part of a healthy diet. However many teenagers reject advice from their parents on many issues including food. This is a part of growing up and developing into an adult with their own views and attitudes. As long as parents are showing teenagers, through their own actions, what a healthy eating pattern is, then teenagers will have the knowledge to re-establish a healthy eating pattern once they are over their rebellious phase.
However some teenagers do develop nutritional problems. Teenage girls may become anaemic. Once they begin menstruating they need a good supply of high iron foods. This is especially important for teenagers who are ‘dieting’ to control their weight, and for those who are vegetarian or vegan.
Teenagers all need a good supply of high calcium foods as their bones are increasing in density long after they have stopped increasing in length. Teenagers who do not have 3 servings of milk, cheese and yogurt each day may make themselves more likely to suffer bone fractures while playing sport. Vitamin D also supports good bone health and I recommend a daily supplement of 10-25 micrograms for rapidly growing teenagers.
Teenage girls who become pregnant are especially nutritionally vulnerable. They should begin taking a vitamin supplement containing Vitamin D and folic acid as soon as they realise they are pregnant. If they do not eat well then a full vitamin and mineral supplement suitable for pregnancy is advisable.
Budding sportsmen and women
Training for a specific sport during adolescent years needs careful nutritional planning. Adequate calories are required to support the training programme plus continued growth and development of bones, muscles and other organs. At the same time, a well balanced diet is required to make sure an adequate amount of all nutrients are included. The high carbohydrate diets traditionally favoured by adult athletes who are training may need to be modified to contain more protein and fat for adolescents undergoing intense training.