The onset of puberty comes with a host of major changes in kids, one of the most significant being dramatic increases in height and weight. Aside from the first year of life, children will grow more between the ages of 10 and 15 than at any other time in their lives. Because of this, puberty is a critical time to implement good nutrition for healthy growth.
Why Nutrition is So Vital
The amount of growth children undergo during puberty gives the opportunity to make up for any nutritional deficits earlier in life. During adolescence, kids will gain 25 to 50 percent of their final adult weight, and 15 to 20 percent of their adult height. It is during this time of life that 45 percent of skeletal mass is formed. Teaching good eating habits during puberty can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy choices and ward off nutrition-related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Because of the significant amount of growth, certain nutrients are in higher demand during puberty. Calcium is critical, due to the significant amount of bone growth. Milk, yogurt and low-fat cheese are good sources. Iron needs peak during adolescence due to dramatic increases in lean body mass and blood volume. It can also help cognition, potentially improving academic performance. Iron can be found in whole grains, lean beef and seafood. Additionally, growth spurts also increase the body's demand for vitamins, in particular Vitamins A, C, D and E.
Boys vs. Girls
Though all young children have much the same requirements as far as vitamins and nutrients are concerned, as kids enter puberty, the needs of boys and girls begin to differ slightly. During growth spurts, girls gain relatively more fat, while boys gain relatively more muscle. Therefore most girls' diets can be somewhat lower in calories than boys'. Blood loss through menstruation also gives girls a greater need for iron than boys.
All of the physical changes the body undergoes during puberty can confuse children, or make them self-conscious. Growth in girls-- particularly in the hips and thighs-- may make them desire to be slimmer and smaller. For boys the reaction may be just the opposite-- they may strive to pack on muscles and gain weight on pace with their peers. Severe body image issues can lead to unhealthy habits, or possibly even eating disorders. An open dialogue with children about what changes to expect in their body can make this transition less confusing, and lead the way to healthy habits in adulthood.
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