He adolescence is a very important stage of life from the perspective of health, because it has just formed body structures and characteristics that will always accompany us.

Adequate nutrition is key in the adolescent population and the pharmacist, as a health educator, can carry out a decisive task in this field. In adolescence, changes are experienced in the psycho-affective, social and physical spheres.

This stage of development is marked by the onset of puberty, which is defined as the period during which the physiological changes necessary to reach sexual maturity take place.

In girls, it usually begins within the 8-11 age range. In boys, it appears later, beginning around age 10 and reaching age 14.

Adolescence and eating habits

The increase in macro and micronutrient nutritional requirements during this stage is more related to biological age than to chronological age, and is more significant in boys than in girls. If intake is inadequate, nutritional deficiencies may well occur.

Eating habits, which influence food preferences, energy consumption and nutrient intake, develop gradually during childhood and particularly during adolescence.

The family and school environment has a major influence on the determination of the child’s attitude towards certain foods and their consumption.

Moreover, nutritional habits acquired in childhood vary little in later years, so that individual eating habits, marked by prior learning, in most adults are almost the same as those acquired in the early stages of life.

In the adolescent’s eating behaviour, frequent habits could be highlighted such as: omitting any of the meals, eating snacks, eating fast food, not eating with the family, following diets without a medical indication, initiating intense physical activity without adequate advice or opting for sedentary lifestyle marked by the habit of spending many hours in front of the television or the computer screen.

Adolescent Nutritional Assessment

The widely accepted indicator for assessing a person’s nutritional status is the percentage of body fat mass. The body mass index (BMI, kg/m2), defined as weight in kg divided by height in metres squared, has an excellent correlation with the percentage of body fat mass and provides a fairly accurate picture of nutritional status in most of the population and of the presence of variables associated with biological damage as a result of excess fat mass.

In addition, BMI related to age and sex is a universally accepted indicator for the estimation of obesity in children from 2 to 18 years, both in epidemiological studies and for clinical screening. The WHO recommends evaluating the nutritional status of children from the age of 6 through the BMI.

Nutritional requirements

Adolescence is a stage that implies an increase in energy demands due to the large number of anabolic reactions that take place during growth. In general, it has been found that the energy intake of adolescents is slightly lower than recommended, with an imbalance in the supply of nutrients.

The energy provided by carbohydrates is much lower than recommended, however, the energy from fat and protein is significantly higher than recommended.

It is difficult to establish standard intake recommendations for this population group due to its peculiarities and the scarcity of scientific studies. Most of the recommendations are based on extrapolation of data from studies in groups of adults or children.

Other data usually come from studies in experimental animals. It is generally accepted that the recommended intake is expressed as a function of length or weight, as chronological age does not frequently coincide with biological age.

In short, the nutritional objectives are to achieve adequate growth, avoid deficiencies of specific nutrients and consolidate correct eating habits to prevent health problems later in life that are influenced by diet, such as hypercholesterolemia, high blood pressure, obesity and osteoporosis.