By Sasha Kirsch for The American Institute of Stress
View presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j-uJTdm5QE
Teenagers are constantly growing and continually active. Proper nutrition is vital to maintaining their body’s growth and development.
When you think of a classic teenager’s meal, what comes to mind? Pizza, maybe? Burgers? Any and all fast/junk food? Most people think this is fine because they are young, and they will work it off. At what age does eating junk food for every meal become wrong? The answer to that question should be from square one. Not that the occasional burger is bad but living an active life as most teenagers do require proper nutrition in order to fuel their bodies. The age that most people think it is acceptable to eat whatever you want is the exact time that proper nutrition is most important.
Today, I will be discussing the importance of the knowledge of proper nutrition for those in their teenage years. Personally, my diet has been something I have struggled with my whole life. I was always the “picky” eater, but nothing ever seemed wrong with eating fast food three or more times a week along with junk food for every snack for a total of most likely near 3000-4000 calories a day. This is how most of my friends lived so I never saw an issue with it. Until one day I decided I did not like the way I looked and felt, and I was sick of eating junk and I wanted to make a change. Since that day about five months ago, my life has revolved around learning everything I can about nutrition and how to properly fuel my growing body. Little did I know, that along with working towards losing a few pounds, I have created a new lifestyle that has made me feel more energized and motivated every day. The problem with that is I have learned more on google searches about nutrition in the past 5 months than I ever had in my 12 years of schooling.
Many people do not address the growing problem of malnutrition in teenagers. The CDC has reported that 20.6% of children aged 12-19 within the US are obese. Another three-fourths of the US population is reported to not get the proper amounts of vegetables, fruits, dairy, and healthy oils (ODPHP). The lack of macronutrients and other essential substances our bodies need can leave teenagers feeling fatigued and unmotivated, it can also lead to serious health disorders such as irregular menstruation in females, obesity, hypothermia, anaemia, and many other damaging disorders. Let us start by establishing what the problem is and why these things must be prioritized, especially from a young age. The way a teenager eats can affect their mood, energy levels, skin, hormones, and many other things. Getting the proper nutrients can create a much better life for everybody around them along with the teenager’s health now and in their future.
Having the proper amount of protein, fruit, and vegetables in a teenager’s diet is vital to getting proper nutrients in their body which helps them grow and feel more energized. Foods such as Greek yogurt, nuts, lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat string cheese, quinoa, and leafy greens are just a few examples of nutrient-dense foods that are important in a healthy, balanced diet. Calcium is more important than ever during the tween and teen years because the majority of bone mass is built during this time (“Healthy Children”).
Iron (which is found in red meat, fish, poultry, dark chocolate, beans, and many other things) for growing females is very important because it helps normalize their hormones and makes up for what is lost during their menstrual period.
Water intake is something that is often overlooked but is particularly important. Being properly hydrated helps your body function at its best. “Water helps keep your body’s temperature stable, it carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, cushions joints, protects organs and tissues and removes wastes” (“Healthy Kids”).
Water also aids in digestion.
Pleasure food in moderation is completely normal and should not be looked down on.
When many people go on a diet, they entirely restrict themselves from a certain type of food. As a growing kid, every food group is important (unless they have an intolerance) whether it be carbs, protein, fats, or anything else. Growing children should not have to restrict their diets or stress about their meals but instead, just add healthy habits to their lifestyles.
Now that we know the dangers of not having the proper nutrition, let’s talk about why most people have such little knowledge on such an important topic. The required one semester of health class in high school covers a minuscule amount of information regarding nutrition and does not highlight its true importance. This leads to children finding most of their information on social media platforms such as Instagram or Tik Tok which can eventually lead to an unhealthy eating disorder.
Health class is often known as a “blow-off” class to most kids and is only taken because it is a requirement. Nutrition is just one topic among nine others required to be taught in health class (“Ten Topics Covered”). Diet culture seen on social media platforms gives teenagers and younger kids an unrealistic idea of what their bodies should look like. (Meda)
“Diet culture places a strong emphasis on achieving the ideal level of thinness with the promise of love, acceptance, and health to follow” (Meda).
90% of women have cellulite and 70% of women have stretch marks (Montell,
Amanda, and Byrdie).
Supermodel bodies should not be normalized. This idea of the perfect body leads teenagers to eat under 1000 calories a day which can be super harmful to their growing bodies.
A separate nutrition class should be required in public schools in order to provide proper information to teenagers which can help prevent them from listening to the unhealthy information seen online. Nutrition is too broad and too important to be taught within a semester course which is also required to address multiple other topics.
How to live a healthy lifestyle no matter what someone’s schedule looks like.
One of the main reasons most kids eat so badly is because of convenience. Fast food is much faster, more accessible, and thought to be cheaper than going home and making a healthy meal, but there are many ways to fit healthy habits into a teenager’s fast-paced, everyday life. Gradually increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables. Many kids do not even eat a full serving of vegetables a day. Vegetables contain vital nutrients and minerals and can be easily slipped into almost any meal and disguised by other food (because many kids dislike the taste). For example, putting riced cauliflower or spinach in a smoothie along with fruit and anything else provides a serving of vegetables that have no taste.
Attempt to have a protein source with every meal. Replace processed, unhealthy sides and snacks with nutrient-dense foods like fruit or vegetables. Most teenagers intake a large number of calories and sugar every day without even realizing it. Avoiding sugary drinks such as soda or energy drinks and replacing those with zero/diet/sugar-free alternatives or tea can easily subtract hundreds of calories and dozens of grams of sugar. Small changes such as whole wheat bread instead of white bread, grilled food instead of fried, and veggies or fruit instead of high-calorie sides Eating meals, you made at home is overall, on average much cheaper than buying fast food every day. An average fast food meal costs $5-$7, eating at home averages $1.30-$3 per meal (“Savings Experiment”).
Having knowledge of proper nutrition is especially important from a young age and should be prioritized. A healthy lifestyle can be much easier to achieve then one would expect.
Making a few simple changes and being more conscious of what is being put into your body can benefit you in several different ways.
By Sasha Kirsch
Southern Methodist University Class of 2024
View presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j-uJTdm5QE
ODPHP. “Chapter 2 Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns.” Current Eating Patterns in the United States – 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/chapter-2/current-eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/.
“Childhood Nutrition.” HealthyChildren.org , www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Childhood-Nutrition.asp x
“Drinks for Hydration.” Healthy Kids, www.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/kids-teens/stats-and-facts-teens/teens-nutrition/drinks-for-h ydration.aspx.
“FastStats – Overweight Prevalence.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 June 2016, www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm.
Meda. “Taking Focus Away from Diet Culture – MEDA – Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association.” MEDA , 18 Nov. 2019, www.medainc.org/taking-focus-away-from-diet-culture/.
Montell, Amanda, and Byrdie. “It’s Statistically Unrealistic to Have a ‘Model Body,’ and Here’s Proof.” Lifestyles , The Quad City Times, 13 Mar. 2018, qctimes.com/lifestyles/it-s-statistically-unrealistic-to-have-a-model-body-and/article_62d 5040d-cfb4-5242-adfb-82de696a2821.amp.html.
Staff, Savings Experiment. “Do Fast Food Retailers Really Offer Value Meals? — Savings Experiment.” AOL.com , AOL, 15 July 2016, www.aol.com/2013/05/13/did-you-know-fast-food-isnt-cheaper-savings-experiment/.