Nutritional needs during adolescence are increased because of the increased growth rate and changes in body composition associated with puberty [1,2]. The dramatic increase in energy and nutrient requirements coincides with other factors that may affect adolescents' food choices and nutrient intake, and thus nutritional status. These factors, including the quest for independence and acceptance by peers, increased mobility, greater time spent at school and/or work activities, and preoccupation with self-image, contribute to the erratic and unhealthy eating behaviors that are common during adolescence [1,3].
Sound nutrition can play a role in the prevention of several chronic diseases, including obesity, coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes [4-12]. For this reason, nutrition was a priority area for the Healthy People 2010, and remains an important objective for Healthy People 2020 . To help prevent diet-related chronic diseases, researchers have proposed that healthy eating behaviors should be established in childhood and maintained during adolescence (table 1) [14-17]. (See "Healthy diet in adults".)
National and population-based surveys have found that adolescents often fail to meet dietary recommendations for overall nutritional status and for specific nutrient intakes [18-21]. Many adolescents receive a higher proportion of energy from fat and/or added sugar and have a lower intake of a vitamin A, folic acid, fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc than is recommended [18,22-27]. The low intake of iron and calcium among adolescent girls is of particular concern. Iron deficiency can impair cognitive function and physical performance, and inadequate calcium intake may increase fracture risk during adolescence and the risk of developing osteoporosis in later life [18,28-33]. (See "Iron requirements and iron deficiency in adolescents" and "Calcium requirements in adolescents".)
Eating habits vary widely between individual adolescents, and also display some general trends over time, reflecting sociocultural trends in food availability and nutritional goals. As an example, data from six national representative surveys showed that total energy intake among us adolescents increased through 2004, then decreased through 2010 . Seven food sources, including sugar-sweetened beverages, pizza, full-fat milk, grain-based desserts, breads, pasta dishes, and savory snacks, consistently contributed to this trend. Intakes of full-fat milk, meats, ready-to-eat cereals, burgers, fried potatoes, fruit juice, and vegetables decreased, whereas nonfat milk, poultry, sweet snacks and candies, and tortilla- and corn-based dishes increased through 2010. The recent changes included significant decreases in sugar-sweetened beverages, pizza, pasta dishes, bread, and savory snacks; and significant increases in fruit.
This topic review discusses characteristic adolescent eating habits, including skipping meals, fast food consumption, frequent snacking, and dieting behaviors [1,35-37]. The nutritional requirements for adolescents are discussed separately. (See "Dietary energy requirements in adolescents".)