Call For Action: Adolescent Nutrition Series

Day-to-day, I find I am focused (?inundated) on problems that are literally right in front of me. Every once in a while, it is important to look more broadly and try to consider/address the larger issues.

Along those lines, I would recommend a series of important articles on adolescent nutrition published by The Lancet. Thanks to William Balistreri for sharing these references.

1. GC Patton et al. Nourishing our future: the Lancet Series on adolescent nutrition. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02140-1

This is an introduction to the series of articles. “Given these increasingly transnational
dimensions of the ultra-processed food industry, it is timely for WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, and their partners to revisit calls for global regulatory frameworks to assist governments in taking action. Given the speed of nutritional change, there is perhaps no greater immediate threat to the health of adolescents. Equally, tackling adolescent nutrition presents an unparalleled opportunity to interrupt intergenerational cycles of malnutrition and respond to the urgent challenges of planetary change”

2. SA Norris et al. Nutrition in adolescent growth and development. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01590-7

  • The review highlights how nutrition in youth/adolescence influences weight, height, BMI as well as the timing of puberty, neurodevelopment, cardiorespiratory fitness, immune function, body composition and bone mass
  • Adolescents are “growing up at a time of momentous shift—ie, rapid urbanisation, climate change, food systems shifting towards foods with an increased caloric and decreased nutritional value, the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing socioeconomic inequality. The consequences of these changing contexts have profound impacts on adolescent nutrition and development”

3. LM Neufeld et al. Food choice in transition: adolescent autonomy, agency,
and the food environment
. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01687-1

Key points:

  • “Adolescents have a lot to say about why they eat what they eat, and the factors that might motivate them to change. Adolescents must be active partners in shaping local and global actions that support healthy eating patterns. Efforts to improve food environments and ultimately adolescent food choice should harness widely shared adolescent values and desire for social interaction around food”
  • The article reviews in depth information from prior surveys including India’s Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey and the Global School-based Student Health Surveys. However, they note that nationally representative detailed dietary intake data are still scarce
  • Food choices by adolescents in modern communities is more heavily influenced by convenience and autonomy; in more traditional communities, family and community priorities often supersede individual considerations of adolescents
  • In the setting of the pandemic, more families (worldwide) are being pushed into food insecurity and shifting towards lower-cost, less nutritious non-perishable foods.
  • “Even in less food-insecure contexts, social isolation is resulting in negative trends among some adolescents, such as reported weight gain, poor eating habits, and stress eating”

4. D Hargreaves et al. Strategies and interventions for healthy adolescent growth,
nutrition, and development
. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01593-2

Key Points:

  • “Adolescence (10–24 years of age) is “characterised by transition, exploration, and openness to change [good and bad], offering opportunities for radical shifts in diet, physical activity, and other risks for non-communicable diseases. This same novelty-seeking and openness to change also makes adolescents a vulnerable group to commercial exploitation and other unhealthy influences, with lifelong and intergenerational consequences”
  • “Despite micronutrient deficiencies and food insecurity persisting in many places, and overweight and obesity rapidly increasing, adolescents have been largely overlooked in global nutritional policy frameworks. Targets should be established for adolescent nutrition in its global tracking and accountability mechanism”
  • “Greater government fiscal and policy action to both restrict the availability of highly processed foods and enhance healthy and diverse adolescent diets is urgently needed”
  • Nutrition education needs to be leveraged in schools: “knowledge of dietary diversity, food environment, and practical skills; use opportunity of school curricula to support nutrition and food preparation; improving choice architecture”
  • Social media has become a huge influence on dietary choices, body image, and psychological well being, both through advertising and marketing to adolescents and subsequent peer interactions

My take: If we truly hope to improve population health, improving diet choices cannot remain the province of only the well-educated wealthy. Adolescence offers a chance to change health trajectories before habits are more rigid and before the development of fixed health consequences.

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1 thought on “Call For Action: Adolescent Nutrition Series

  1. Pingback: Ultraprocessed Food and the Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease | gutsandgrowth

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