Adolescence is the stage in which children transition into becoming adults and takes place between the ages of 10-18 in females and 12-20 in males. This is a time when the person undergoes many physical, emotional, and intellectual changes that are all regulated by various hormones that are in the body. Because of the development taking place in their bodies, proper nutritional intake in vital to successful growth and therefore many adolescents are vulnerable to developing nutrition related problems.
In addition to it being important for influencing proper growth and development, proper dietary intake during this period is also imperative because it is an investment in helping adolescents establish proper health practices as they enter adulthood. There are several problems associated with adolescent nutrition including iron deficiency anemia, low calcium intakes, high blood cholesterol, eating disorders, and dental caries. First, iron deficiency, one of the most common issues of adolescence.
Because females are beginning menstruation, they lose iron in their lost blood every month. In males, the increased blood volume and hemoglobin concentration in the blood used for muscles and sexual development requires increased iron intake. Females particularly have been found to be low in iron because they consume less calories and less meat than males. Low calcium levels are another area of concern in the adolescent time. During this time of development calcium is needed to help build bone mass and adolescents need a minimum of 1300 mg of calcium a day to keep up with bone growth.
Adolescents, especially girls who are on low calorie diets, or who consume other beverages instead of milk are especially at risk for being low in calcium, an issue which can later lead to osteoporosis. Third, adolescents are at risk for developing high blood cholesterol if they do not practice proper nutrition especially if they regularly consume foods that are high in saturated and Trans fats. Teenagers who are especially at risk are those who have a family history of heart disease, those who smoke, and those who have low levels of physical activity.
Fourth, the development of eating disorders, specifically anorexia and bulimia has become an increasingly common problem in the adolescent years. Because this is a time in an individual’s life where their body is changing, and they are developing into and adult on a mental level, it is understandable that many will develop self image problems that will manifest into an eating disorder. Individuals who are at highest risk for developing an eating disorder are Caucasian females between the ages of 14 and 30.
Within this group, many have been found to be teens who take part in competitions where body weight is highly emphasized such as gymnastics, dancing, sports, and swimming. Finally, dental caries are considered one of the most common diseases in children and adolescents. Tooth decay and improper dental hygiene are especially common in teens of low income households because of their inability to access dental services, and because they may be eating more foods that contribute to tooth decay, such as foods that are highly processed and high in sugar.