Teens today are faced with many choices -- especially those related to what they eat. A typical U.S. teenage diet is high in added sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and calories. Additionally, their diets lack enough fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, whole grains and lean meats. Therefore, encouraging healthy choices within the recommended calorie limits is critical to teens' current and future well-being.
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Puberty Changes Everything
Internal and external factors often drive teenagers to eat more. Rapid growth spurts can increase hunger exponentially during these years. Making more independent choices, extra opportunities to purchase food for themselves, peer pressure and increased media influence can also impact choices around food. Overall, teen energy needs are higher than those of children and adults.
Let's Hear It for the Boys
Recommended calorie levels vary based on age, gender and activity level. Most recommendations encompass the preteen years, providing information for ages 9 to 18. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, between ages 9 and 18 boys' calorie needs range from 1,600 to 3,200 daily. Younger, more sedentary teens have the lowest needs, while older, more active boys have higher energy needs.
What a Girl Needs
Girls tend to need fewer calories than their male counterparts -- between 1,400 and 2,400 calories daily. The younger and less active a girl, the fewer calories she needs. Girls between ages 9 and 18 who are sedentary may only need 1,400 calories. However, an older teen who is more active needs up to 2,400 calories daily.
Bringing It Home
If you're concerned about your teen’s weight, be informed about calorie limits, but do not make it the only focus. Stay away from fad diets and focus on creating a healthier lifestyle. Encourage more physical activity, with a goal of 60 minutes a day. Make changes as a family to support and encourage your teen to stick with healthier choices. Finally, create a positive environment around food, which is important for all teens, regardless of their weight goals.