Adolescence (ages 10 to 19) is a crucial life stage for growing vibrant and healthy young people, while laying down lifelong eating habits. It could represent the last chance to reverse stunting. Adolescents are also the parents of the future; their nutritional status shapes the health of the next generation. Adolescents experience multiple burdens of malnutrition. The increasing burden of overweight and obesity co-exists with continued high prevalence of underweight and micronutrient deficiencies. If current trends continue, by 2022, more children and adolescents will be obese than underweight.
In 2019, there are 1.2 billion adolescents globally. An astonishing 89% are in low- and middle-income countries. They eat too few fruits, vegetables, and other micronutrient-rich foods, and too many products full of salt, sugar, and solid fats. These diets fail to position them for long, healthy, and productive adult lives. One of the main reasons that adolescents tend to eat badly is that in their daily routine, they are exposed to large amounts of both traditional and social media replete with unhealthy food marketing. They are also an emotionally vulnerable group, susceptible to pressure from social norms and peer groups. Much more investment is needed in better adolescent nutrition.
The key feature of GAIN’s adolescent nutrition programme is that we involve adolescents at every stage, incorporating their perspectives and guidance. Nutrition and health rarely drive adolescent food decisions. Beyond taste, price and availability, food is deeply emotional, with personal, social, and environmental benefits all influential. We help adolescents discover why to eat better – in order to persuade them to do so. This complements traditional messages around how to eat better. We also use our connections in the food supply chain to ensure that there is something healthy for adolescents to buy once demand has been activated.
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