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Growing Pains: Supporting your Teen’s Nutrition and Wellness

Group of young teenager friends on a basketball court, sitting, relaxing, smiling.

The period of adolescence is a stage of life set between childhood and adulthood, which typically occurs between the ages of 12-18 years. During this time, teenagers experience rapid changes and growth – both physically, mentally, and socially. It is a period marked by discovery, testing limits and gaining independence, maturing personality and increased interests, and greater desire to make their own choices about everything from school to doing homework to physical activity to nutrition. Understanding these changes can help you support your teenager through these growing pains and gains.

Support Growth and Change

Young teens (ages 12-14 years) and teenagers (ages 15-17 years) experience profound physical changes during adolescence. Growth spurts as noted by great gains in height are achieved during this time. Girls can grow up to 2-8 inches taller and boys can grow up to 4-12 inches taller during this period. Puberty, which marks the onset of adolescence, brings on further physical changes.

Alongside physical changes, social, emotional, and intellectual changes also occur. Teens may show more concern about their body image and how they look; they may experience moodiness, exhibit short tempers and feel stress or sadness; and they may be more interested in and influenced by peers than parents. Adolescents have a greater ability for complex and abstract thought, and often demonstrate egocentric behaviors and attitudes.

Address Nutrition Needs

The rapid physical growth and changes in the body demand an increased need for higher caloric and protein intake, as compared to nutrient needs during childhood. The increased intake is needed to fuel the increased bone and muscle development that is occurring during this time.

For young teens, girls require about 1,400 to 2,200 calories per day to support this growth, while boys require about 1,600 to 2,600 calories per day. Even more calories may be needed for teens who play sports or who are very active. For older teens, increased appetites signal increased nutritional needs. Older teen girls require about 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day, while older teen boys require about 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day, depending on activity level.

Ideally, calories should come from a variety of healthy food choices and from all macronutrients, with about 45-65% of calories coming from carbohydrates, 10-30% from proteins, and 25-35% from fats. Support your teen by encouraging them to eat

a variety of whole foods from a variety of sources, have both meals and snacks throughout the day, and keep well-hydrated. Explore resources like MyPlate, to learn about healthy eating, food groups, portion sizes, food and fitness for teens, and recipes to try.

Additionally, certain micronutrients are very important to consume during adolescence. Calcium needs increase during teenage years, to help support the lengthening of bones and growth spurts, however calcium intake tends to plunge as teens replace milk with soft drinks. Support your teenager by providing other options that contain high calcium, along with vitamin D needed to maintain bones, such as yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, or cottage cheese. Iron is also a crucial micronutrient that is needed to support teens’ brain function, immunity, and energy level. Iron is found in meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, and legumes, and is best absorbed when taken with foods that contain vitamin C (i.e. orange juice, citrus fruits, etc.). Iron deficiency, marked by excessive tiredness, is possible when teens avoid eating meat, or when girls do not consume enough iron to make up for the losses experienced through menstruation. Ideally, foods with calcium and foods with iron should be consumed separately, as calcium reduces iron absorption.

Engage in Physical Activity

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents, ages 6 through 17 years, do at least 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day. Regular physical activity promotes health and fitness, stronger bones and muscles, lower body fat, and supports brain health such as improved academic performance and memory, and reduces symptoms of depression. According to the American Heart Association, only one in four teenagers are meeting the recommended 1 hour per day of exercise. This is attributed to increased screen time (i.e. phones, computer, gaming, tv), and lack of school-based physical education programs. Encourage your teen to put down their phones, and get moving, do exercise they enjoy such as team sports, hikes, dancing, or take a bike ride, and exercise with friends. Exercise will help their body and their mind adjust to the many changes of adolescence.

Sleep and Restore

Most teenagers require 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, but many do not get that. Whether it’s school or extracurricular demands, late night homework, early classes, part-time jobs, or time management challenges, your average teenager might be experiencing a sleep deficit. Lack of sleep can lead to loss of concentration, increased irritability, increased risk of accidents or injury, behavioral problems and depression. Encourage your teen to stick to a schedule, avoid long naps that could disrupt nighttime sleep, be active, and avoid caffeinated beverages or products. Talk to your teen about how a good night’s rest can promote well-being, calm energy and attentiveness.

Bottom Line: There are many profound changes that occur during adolescence. See these changes as opportunities for your teen to learn more about themselves and grow healthfully into the person they are.

Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.

Written by Edenn Sarino Vidrio, MPH, MS, MCHES®, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern


5. WebMD


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