Adolescent nutrition: The foundation of life


ADOLESCENCE is the link between childhood and adulthood.
This is the age when physical and hormonal changes take place, causing stress to the body.
It is also a stage when one develops a ravenous appetite to meet the demands of the growing body.
At adolescent stage a child tends to be more active, thus requiring more energy.
Healthy eating during adolescence is important to meet the body changes.
With greater independence, adolescents may have more options on what to eat. Their choices may include fast foods and those with low nutritional value. At this stage they will also prefer to go out and eat with friends, thus influencing one another in the choice of food. The net result is that, mostly, they tend to fill their bellies with junk food with no nutritional value.
Adolescence is an especially critical time for women and girls.
In the era of increased teen pregnancies, expectant adolescents who are underweight or stunted are especially likely to experience obstructed labour and other obstetric complications. There is evidence that the bodies of the adolescent mother and her baby may compete for nutrients, raising the infant’s risk of low birth weight.
Adolescents and girls in particular need to be protected from micro-nutrient deficiency or hidden hunger (too little food or food lacking required nutrients).
One may be eating a belly full of rice or starches, but if you’re not getting important micro-nutrients like iron, vitamin A, iodine and folate, you will remain malnourished. Adolescence is a time to prepare for the nutritional demands of pregnancy and lactation that girls may experience in later life. Under-nutrition negatively affects adolescent girls by:
• Affecting their ability to learn and work at maximum productivity;
• Increasing the risk of poor obstetric outcomes for teen mothers;
• Arresting the healthy development of future children;
• Affecting sexual maturation and growth.
Children born from under-nourished mothers are most likely to be malnourished. Malnourishment early in life means that the body isn’t able to properly process nutrition later in life, even when access to good foods is improved. But, also, if early in life you eat only poor quality food, like porridge, etc. and later in life when you have more options you eat only high fat food like burgers, you won’t be healthy.
At adolescence is when women’s bodies are building reserves in micronutrients like iron that will ensure healthy pregnancies, safe deliveries and give their children a strong start in life
Healthy, well-nourished girls have better outcomes in education and stronger participation in the economic growth of the nation.
Childhood and adolescence obesity is yet another issue of concern; the amount of physical activity is much less as compared to their potential. Due to high consumption of junk food, there is intake of empty calories which results in obesity.
To get rid of obesity, many adolescents resort to crash dieting, which is not healthy and deprives them of essential nutrients. To remain healthy at this stage and throughout life, adolescents have to pay attention to nutrition. Fast foods should be reduced and replaced by nutritious local available foods.
Focus strategy on adolescent nutrition.
Adolescents should be taught about the value of good nutrition in schools.
Nutrition education can be merged in already existing platforms in school clubs and communities. Programmes such as debates and quizzes on nutrition will keep the adolescents interested in learning more about the importance of adolescent nutrition.
In communities, there is need to have IEC materials readily available about adolescent nutrition. These must also be interpreted into local languages to reach more adolescents.
Through IEC materials, adolescents can also be taught how to start up a small vegetable garden in their backyard or farm and engage in positive agricultural practices as a way of keeping them busy and away from vices.
It is important to introduce children to good nutrition practice at a tender age if cases of stunting or malnutrition are to be reduced. Good nutrition is critical to the cognitive and body development of a child, among others.
Lastly, there is need to train and have more youth leaders for nutrition countrywide. This will enable us to see more of different activities happening around the country.
To fight this battle of malnutrition and stunting, the media plays an important role in sensitising communities on the harmful effects of junk food and promoting healthy eating.
There is need to use various media platforms such as television, radio, and newspapers to highlight the importance of adolescent nutrition.
Keeping our adolescents healthy should be a concern for all.
The author is a Zambian youth advocate under Global Youth Leaders for Nutrition.

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