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Nutrition for Children and Teenagers

The teenage years can be difficult for both boys and girls. To most teens, their looks are extremely important, with the main focus usually being body image. Often, teens have unrealistic notions about the way their body should look. Boys usually put more emphasis on exercising, especially with weights. Teenage girls tend to diet as an approach to finding the perfect body. This usually involves some type of fad diet, and that can be very dangerous, especially during the adolescent years. Excessive concern about weight can also lead girls to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and the abuse of medications such as laxatives or diuretics.

Being obsessive about weight can result in various eating disorders. It is estimated that one million or more Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder. Eating disorders are more than a food problem and are linked to psychological problems.

Anorexia and Bulimia
Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder, which usually begins at the age of fourteen or fifteen (but can occur at a younger age), with another peak in incidence in eighteen-year-olds. It is more common in adolescent girls, but it is also found in boys and its incidence has been increasing. Anorexia causes an overwhelming fear of being overweight and a drive to be thin, leading to self-induced starvation or a severe restriction of calories that can lead to being severely underweight. Anorexia is linked to menstrual irregularity, osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) in women, and a greater risk of early death in both men and women.

Bulimia is another eating disorder marked by a loss of control and binge eating, followed by purging behaviors. The person gorges on high-calorie foods and then intentionally vomits or uses laxatives or diuretics.

Signs to Watch For
Factors that you should look for if you suspect that your child has an eating disorder include the following:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Recent weight loss of 15 percent or more of normal body weight, with no medical reason
  • A fear of gaining weight or of being overweight
  • Purging behaviors (vomiting or using diuretics—water pills—or laxatives to lose weight)
  • Having a distorted image of their body size or shape (for example, believing they are overweight even though they are at a healthy weight or even underweight)
  • A preoccupation with thoughts of food, calories, and weight
  • Restrictive eating patterns such as frequently skipping meals, fasting, or eliminating entire food groups
  • Preference for eating alone
  • For young women, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycles) or delayed onset of puberty
  • Being underweight, with a body mass index that is below normal
  • Exercising compulsively
  • An extreme denial of possibility of eating disorder
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Wearing bulky clothing to hide weight loss
  • A recent or past event in their life that was very stressful
You should have your child seen by a physician as soon as possible if you think she or he might have an eating disorder. Eating disorders can cause extreme undernourishment and even death. The best treatment for eating disorders combines medical, psychological, and nutrition counseling.

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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