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Adolescent Food Habits

Adolescence is the period when a child’s body changes into that of an adult. Among other things, an adolescent has increased nutrient needs. It is also a period when teenagers may decide to start dieting and skipping meals. Peer pressure can affect their eating behaviour and result in either over-eating or under-eating.

Disordered eating

Certain psychological conditions can lead to disordered eating, including behaviours such as extreme dieting, binge eating and bringing up food on purpose. This affects more teenagers than adults and more girls than boys (nine girls to every one boy).

Anxiety, worry, loneliness and difficulty in managing family relationships are all factors that can lead to a refusal to eat or to excessive eating. Stress and boredom often result in the compulsive eating of certain
foods, called ´bingeing´.

Teenagers and weight

Many adolescents see themselves as being too fat, while some, particularly males, see themselves as too thin. About 34% of females and 13% of males report dieting to lose weight.

Healthy eating habits

Follow these tips for healthy eating in teenage years:

  • Eat regular meals.
  • Do some physical exercise daily.
  • Eat a wide variety of foods.
  • Eat carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice and potatoes.
  • Eat family meals together at the table.

Facts about nutrition and adolescents

Girls need more iron than boys.

False: When girls start having periods (menstruating), dietary iron needs increase because iron is lost in their menstrual blood. But boys need more iron too. Around the same age, boys need more iron because of their rapid growth and increase in blood volume. However, around the age of 19, when growth slows, a female’s iron needs is almost double that of males.

Following diets on a regular basis considerably increases the risk of craving - an uncontrollable desire to eat certain foods.

True: Diets encourage a cycle of under-eating, feeling hungry, bingeing and then feeling guilty about ‘breaking the diet’. This in turn leads to overeating once the diet is ‘broken’.

Teenagers are not affected by stress.

False: Teenagers can be just as affected as adults. Types of stress such as disturbed home situations, pressure at school and intense efforts made in order to be top of the class, often lead to excessive comfort eating, particularly of high fat foods. One solution is to do some physical activity to help with the stress.

One sign of extreme disordered eating in girls is when their periods stop.

True: Girls who are extreme dieters lose all their reserves of fat, which nearly always causes them to stop menstruating. Keen sportswomen who also have very little body fat often experience the same problem. There are other reasons why periods may stop. If you are concerned, see your doctor.

Teenagers grow fast and they require a calcium intake of 1,000 to 1,200mg a day.

True: Calcium is necessary for building strong bones and ensuring good health in the long term. It is therefore essential that teenagers include at least 3 serves of dairy foods a day in order to have an adequate calcium intake.

You needn’t eat a lot to put on weight.

True: It is possible to put on weight without eating large amounts of food! If you do not exercise regularly, your energy requirement is likely to be small and it is easy to obtain more energy than you expend, even with a small amount of food. This is known as positive energy balance. When you are in positive energy balance there will be a tendency for you to put on weight. The best thing to do, therefore, is to be physically active and stay physically active for as long as you can throughout your life. You should also take a balanced approach to eating and include a wide variety of nutritious foods such as fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy products, lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, legumes, breads and cereals. Limit high fat foods.

Around 20% of children and adolescents are overweight.

True: The number of obese children in Australia has increased since the 1980s, mainly due to a combination of a lack of physical activity and a high fat / energy dense diet.

Your diet can be a major cause of pimples.

False: Hormones, not food, are largely responsible for acne.

Some processed meats contain less than 10% fat by weight.

True: Meats such as pastrami, lean roast beef, lean ham, turkey and chicken breast are lower in fat than many other types of processed or deli meats.

A lack of variety in your diet is one of the causes of obesity.

True: Eating a little of everything is the secret to good nutrition. If you limit yourself to eating only certain types of food, your body is unable to benefit from all the nutrients it needs. For example, you can eat hamburgers... but not ONLY hamburgers.