Key points

  • Growth and development are rapid during teenage years, and the demand for energy and most nutrients is relatively high.
  • National survey data show adolescents’ intakes of saturated fatty acids, salt and non-milk extrinsic sugars (added sugars) are above recommended levels.
  • A proportion of teenagers have low intakes of some vitamins and minerals (in particular vitamin A, riboflavin, iron, calcium and magnesium), with more girls aged 11-18 having low intakes compared to boys of a similar age.
  • Overweight and obesity are prevalent in British adolescents. For example, in 2007 28% of English boys aged 15 years and 34% of English girls aged 15 years were overweight or obese.
  • Adolescents in Britain are largely inactive. It is recommended that young people should do at least 60 minutes of activity of moderate intensity every day.

Energy and nutrient requirements

During puberty, young people grow and develop rapidly. At this stage, children’s bodies begin to mature and take on the adult form. Adolescents require an increased amount of energy and nutrients for these physical changes. They should eat a healthy varied diet as described in the eatwell plate; this is important for growth, maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic diseases as they get older.

The demand for energy and most nutrients is relatively high in adolescents compared with other age groups. Requirements for many vitamins and minerals are higher compared to the needs of younger children. This demand differs between boys and girls: boys need more protein and energy than girls to support their later growth spurt.

A growth spurt usually begins around the age of 10 years in girls and 12 years in boys. In both sexes, an average of 23cm is added to height and 20-26kg to weight. Therefore, young people of this age require extra energy to grow and develop. Body composition also changes during the teenage years. The proportion of fat present changes from an average of 15% in both boys and girls prior to adolescence to about 20% in girls (an increase) and about 10% in boys (a fall) after puberty.


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