For young adults and teens, health and self-care aren’t always the biggest priorities. In this stage of life, most are focusing on school, their social life, and finding activities that interest them. Life for many teens and young adults includes lots of screen time, iced coffee, and eating fast food with friends. This certainly isn’t the picture of health.
Teens are forming their own health habits during this time in their life, so nutrition, physical activity and mental health are all important factors to consider. The following health tips for teens can help them put their best food forward.
A Focus on Food
Typically, teens’ diets are full of sugar, fat and processed foods. Although these foods are popular in a young person’s diet, look for ways to pack in extra punches of nutrition.
Parents often question how many calories their child needs each day. The range is wide and depends on body mass index (BMI), sex, and physical activity levels. Caloric needs can vary from 2,000 – 2,800 per day. Instead of focusing on calories, you and your teen or young adult should focus on making nutritious choices that will fuel their body.
- Add Lean Protein – Protein should be a part of every teen and young adult’s diet. Make chicken, fish, beef, beans or dairy a staple of every meal. Protein is needed for muscle growth as your child develops.
- Fill up on Produce – Fresh fruits and vegetables will give your child the vitamins and minerals they need for growth.
- Add Whole Grains – Carbohydrates are the main energy source teens and young adults need to keep going throughout the day. Instead of chips and cookies, add whole grain pasta, whole grain rice and whole grain bread to their diet.
- Drinks Lots of Water – Encourage your child to limit sugary drinks and sweetened coffee. Water should be their main source of hydration.
Key Nutrients for Teens and Young Adults
- Calcium: Calcium helps maintain healthy bones and teeth. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for those 9-18 years old is 1,300 mcg per day. Good sources of calcium include milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Iron: Iron is essential for kids as they reach adolescence. These needs increase in athletes and as girls begin menstruation. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 8 mg/day for 9-13 years; 15 mg/day for girls ages 14-18; and 11 mg for boys ages 14-18. Add lean meats, seafood, nuts, spinach and broccoli to your child’s diet.
- Vitamin D: The recommendation is 600 IU per day. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and is important for bones and teeth as well. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D such as orange juice, cereals and bread.
Fitness and Physical Activity
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily for all kids and teens ages six to seventeen. For those who play organized sports, this level of activity is an easy ask. For others, it may be hard to accomplish. Talk with your teen about what interests them in lines of physical activity. You may be surprised! Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
- Join a gym
- Take a fitness class
- Walk with friends or family
- Try a new sport
- Visit a community pool
Screen Time and Social Activity
Encourage your child to put the phone, video game and laptop down for a while. Teens and young adults spend hours on their devices, which leaves little time for social activity. Increased screen time has been linked to worsened mental health and behavior disorders. Experts vary with their recommendations, but most agree that young people should have no more than two to four hours of screen time per day.
Instead of focusing on a screen, help your child find new activities such as reading, walking, drawing or painting. Use the teenage years to help them develop new hobbies and activities. Spending time with friends is also a priority during this stage of life. Socialization is a crucial part of their development.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep gives the body time to rest, repair and grow. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Many teens get far less than this. Work with your child on a plan to ensure maximum sleep by focusing on a consistent nighttime routine, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and limiting late night screen time.
The steps above can help ensure your child is on their way to their best health as they grow older. The habits they form early on will have a significant impact on their adult years.