Adolescence is the age which is midway between childhood and adulthood. At this age, physical and hormonal changes occur in the body putting increased demand of nutrients on the body. To fulfill this obligation, nature has devised such that one has a ravenous appetite at this age. As the child grows, there is greater demand for studies and other activities, which requires more energy. Thus nutritional requirement of an adolescent becomes more as compared to a child or grown up adult.
At this age, a growing child starts getting fussy about food and has his/ her own choices. They also like to eat with friends, thus one influencing another in the choice of food. The net result is that mostly they tend to fill their bellies with junk food with no nutritional value.
There are other issues which impede the intake of good nutritional food in adolescents. One is the desire to have a figure like a favorite model or film star, seeking which many adolescents avoid eating and go on crash dieting. This problem is more with young girls. Then they consider their or their friend’s personal experiences about food more important than the issue of nutrients. These food fads prevent taking nutritional food. Under peer pressure, an adolescent may start taking alcohol or drugs. This can impair the overall health as well the nutritional status. Little do these youngsters realize that proper nutrition taken at this stage of life strengthens the body not only presently, but for life.
Deficiency of necessary calories and nutrients causes behavior changes in adolescents. Undue agitation or depression in them is at times due to malnutrition.
Iron requirement increasesd at this stage due to increased body mass and size. Girls start menstruation. If iron is not taken in adequate amounts, they tend to develop chronic anemia. Maximum thickness of bone is obtained in this stage of life. This means additional requirement of calcium. Good optimum bone density achieved in adolescence prevents osteoporosis and pathological fractures in old age. Lack of adequate intake of calcium and physical inactivity prevent the bones to become as dense as required. Result can be, aches and pains in the joints from an early age and early softening of bones later in life.
Insufficient intake of green leafy vegetables tends to cause anemia due to folic acid deficiency. It also causes the bowels to become sluggish. This forms the basis for digestive troubles and constipation from young adulthood. Lack of adequate physical activity augments the problem.
Childhood and adolescence obesity is yet another issue for concern. Due to availability of electronic entertainment, youngsters are glued to their computers and mobiles in most of their leisure time. The amount of physical activity done is much less as compared to the potential they have. Junk food provides many calories, which are not burnt sufficiently. Net result is obesity. To get rid of it, many adolescents resort to crash dieting, which is not healthy and deprives them of essential nutrients.
To remain healthy for now and throughout life, adolescents have to give attention to their nutrition. Fast food should be reduced and replaced by freshly cooked balanced, nutritional meals. Fresh food can never be substituted by nutritional supplements because many micronutrients present in it cannot be replaced by any other means. Alcohol should be avoided. Soda beverages can be replaced by fresh fruit juices. Snacks made of whole grains, cereals or fruits, would be beneficial.
Adolescents should be taught about the value of good nutrition in schools, because in this age they are more open to listening to outsiders than their parents. Media can help by projecting the harmful effects of junk food and promoting use of healthy food. After all adolescents are the future of any society or nation and thus to keep them healthy is a concern for all.