FAQs on common concerns for teenagers

Information on some of the most common diet and health concerns for teens

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Should I follow the latest fad diet?

Concern with weight and shape is extremely common during the adolescent years. Teenagers can feel dissatisfied with their body image and feel pressurised to be thinner than is healthy. Some may try to achieve this goal through poor, and sometimes even dangerous, nutritional choices or use unhealthy weight control behaviours. 

  • Although it is tempting to follow the latest celebrity endorsed diet, be careful if these are very restrictive.
  • Fad (or crash) diets can seriously limit the amount of food you can eat or ban food groups from the diet completely. That means you may not be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, and this can make you feel unwell, tired and irritable. Although the diets may cause weight loss for a short time, you are likely to gain it back quickly when you change back to your normal diet.
  • Skipping meals can leave you feeling so hungry that all you can think about is food. You may be more tempted to reach for high fat and sugar snacks during the day.
  • Although there are lots of weight-loss pills, drinks, supplements, and other products you can buy without a prescription that promise quick weight loss, most of these lack scientific evidence that they offer any benefit. Some may be dangerous and are not recommended by health professionals.
  • Some people think they can lose weight by making themselves vomit or taking laxatives. These are dangerous steps and can be signs of eating disorders. Do seek help if you think you may have an eating disorder. Speak to your GP or find out more about getting help from the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat.

Eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet and keeping active will help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy attitude towards food! For more information read our pages on a healthy and sustainable diet.

 

Can nutrition supplements help to make my skin glow or my hair shinier?

Many nutrients can influence the condition of our skin, nails and hair. But we can get all of these from a healthy, balanced diet. This will include plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, some good quality sources of protein like pulses, and fish, eggs and lean meat (if you're not vegan), some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) and some healthy fats (these can include nuts and seeds, oily fish, unsaturated oils like olive/rapeseed oil and avocados). 

A healthier, balanced diet also has less saturated fat, sugars and salt. Foods and drinks like sugary drinks, crisps, cakes, chocolate and deep-fried fast foods can be high in saturated fat, sugars and salt, so if you have a lot of these in your diet then try to eat them less frequently, and in small amounts. It is also good to drink plenty of fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses a day) – water is an excellent choice. You may see many nutrition supplements that claim to make your hair shinier or skin glow, but we do not have enough evidence to support their benefits, particularly if you are eating a healthy diet. If you are concerned about a skin condition or hair loss, then it’s best to get this checked out by your GP.

What about diet and acne?

Acne is a skin condition that is particularly common during teenage years but can continue into adulthood. There is disagreement among scientists about the exact relationship between diet and acne. Diet is often reported in popular media as a cause of acne – with chocolate and fatty foods often mentioned. More recently some limited research suggests dairy foods and high glycaemic foods (such as sugary foods and drinks) increase the risk of acne. For more information on high glycaemic foods read our page on starchy foods.

However, we do not have sufficient evidence to reach any conclusions and more research is needed to really understand whether specific foods have a direct effect on acne, whether they can make acne worse or whether avoiding them would prevent acne. Given the current data, no specific dietary changes are recommended in the management of acne. The British Association of Dermatologists say there is little evidence that any foods cause acne; however, your health will benefit from a healthy, balanced diet.

If you are concerned about your acne, then go to your GP or pharmacist for advice. If your acne is making you feel depressed, there is support available. Find more information on the Skin Support website.

 

Are energy drinks a good way to increase my energy levels?

Your teenage years are a busy time for your growing body but also often a time of poor sleep and stress. Being dehydrated can cause tiredness and a lack of concentration. In addition, many adolescent girls have low intake of iron increasing the risk of anaemia, which can leave you feeling tired. Teenagers may look to energy drinks for an energy boost, but these are not recommended. This is because energy drinks typically contain high levels of caffeine and free sugars (although some sugar-free varieties are now available). Daily use of energy drinks has been linked to headaches, sleeping problems, irritation and tiredness. Extremely high consumption of caffeine has also been associated with heart complications and can have a harmful effect on the nervous system. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that energy drinks are not appropriate for teenagers.

Some key tips for energy:

  • Hydrate: Water is a great choice – keep a refillable bottle with you. Milk is another good option.
  • Eat iron-rich foods: Dark green leafy vegetables and pulses, like peas, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, fish, eggs and dried fruit, and small amounts of lean red meat.
  • Healthy breakfast: Why not try wholegrains? Quick and easy breakfasts include wholewheat toast with peanut butter or chopped banana, or porridge topped with fresh or dried fruit. Have a glass or milk or a reduced fat yogurt on the side (or a fortified dairy alternative).
  • Sleep: Teens need a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. Tips for better sleep include screen-free bedrooms, screen-free time before going to sleep and finding a relaxing routine before bed that works for you.

Information reviewed July 2019

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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any personal advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.

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