AdolescenceYour weight
Expert advice to help you maintain a healthy weight

Dissatisfied with your weight?
We're bombarded with scare stories about weight, from size zero to the obesity 'epidemic'. But a healthy weight is determined by different factors for each of us. Our expert advice is designed to help you achieve and maintain a healthy, life-enhancing weight.

Overweight or underweight?
Being the right weight has a positive effect on wellbeing but also on our health, as being the wrong weight can cause a range of medical problems.

Teenagers go through many changes, and it's vital their diets keep pace with this development.

Teenagers and diet
Teenagers' diets should sustain growth and promote good health. During this time, a number of physiological changes occur that affect nutritional needs, including rapid growth and considerable gains in bone and muscle (especially in boys). This is also a time when teenagers begin to develop real independence from their parents, including making decisions about the food they eat. Teenagers often choose food in response to peer pressure or as an act of defiance against parents. It's not all bad news, as there are many opportunities to encourage healthy dietary habits in teenagers, particularly when relating good food choices to sporting or physical prowess. Ensure there are plenty of healthy options available at home for healthy meals and snacks.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People Aged 4-18 Years provides detailed information on the nutritional intake and physical activity levels of young people in the UK. .

The findings reveal average consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt is too high, while that of starchy carbohydrates and fibre is low. During the seven-day recording period, more than half the young people surveyed hadn't eaten any citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables (such as cabbage or broccoli), eggs or raw tomatoes. The survey also showed that one in ten teenagers have very low intakes of vitamin A, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Intake of iron and calcium was also below ideal levels among many of the teenagers. Meanwhile the rising levels of obesity suggest many young people are eating too many calories.

Iron deficiency
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the UK. In the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, up to 13 per cent of teenage boys and 27 per cent of girls were found to have low iron stores. Rapid growth, coupled with a fast lifestyle and poor dietary choices, can result in iron-deficiency anaemia. Teenage girls need to take particular care because their iron stores are depleted each month following menstruation.

The main dietary source of iron is red meat, but there are lots of non-meat sources, too, including fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruit, bread and green leafy vegetables. The body doesn't absorb iron quite as easily from non-meat sources, but you can enhance absorption by combining them with a food rich in vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, blackcurrants and green leafy vegetables). In contrast, tannins found in tea reduce the absorption of iron, so it's better to have a glass of orange juice with your breakfast cereal than a cup of tea.

Calcium deficiency
The survey also highlighted that 25 per cent of teens had a calcium intake below the recommended level, which has serious implications for their future bone health.

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and break very easily. Bones continue to grow and strengthen until the age of 30, and the teenage years are very important to this development. Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous are vital for this process, with calcium requirements for the teenage years ranging from 800mg to 1,000mg per day.

Calcium-rich foods should be consumed every day. The richest source of calcium in most people's diet is milk and dairy products. Encourage your teenager to eat two to three portions of dairy food each day – for example, a glass of milk, a 150g pot of yoghurt and a small matchbox-sized piece of cheese. If your teenager doesn’t eat dairy products, try fortified soya milk. Dairy foods are often avoided by teenage girls because of concerns about fat content. Low-fat dairy foods are equally rich in calcium, so providing these versions to aid consumption can be helpful.

Foods to choose
Adolescence is a time of rapid growth, and the primary dietary need is for energy - often reflected in a voracious appetite. Ideally, foods in the diet should be rich in energy and nutrients. Providing calories in the form of sugary or fatty snacks can mean nutrient intake is compromised, so teenagers should be encouraged to choose a variety of foods from the other basic food groups:

Plenty of starchy carbohydrates - bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, chapattis, couscous and potatoes
Plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions every day
Two to three portions of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, fromage frais and pasteurised cheeses
Two servings of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses
Not too many fatty foods
Limit sugar-rich food and drinks

Other important dietary habits to follow during adolescence include:

Drink at least eight glasses of fluid a day.
Eat regular meals, including breakfast, as it can provide essential nutrients and improve concentration in the mornings. Choose a fortified breakfast cereal with semi-skimmed milk and a glass of fruit juice.
Take regular exercise, which is important for overall fitness and cardiovascular health, as well as bone development.


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