Children have diverse calorie and nutritional requirements based on their age, growth and development, and physical activity. Those in their teens require a lot of energy because they are still growing. The amount of energy that they need from their daily nutritional intake is measured in calories.
According to the NHS, a 2011 report on the energy requirement for children said that an average boy aged 14 years needs 2629 calories daily, whereas an average girl of the same age needs 2342 calories daily. Meanwhile, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 indicate that adolescents aged 14 to 18 years require an average of 2000 to 3000 calories per day for boys and 1800 to 2400 calories per day for girls.Jesmarie Macapagal, RN, MD, DPPS
This article will define what calories actually mean and what they really represent. It will explain why there are different estimated needs for those in the adolescent age group. Next, it will focus on 14-year-olds and their requirements for caloric intake per day. Lastly, it will give some tips on healthy eating for children in their adolescence.
What are Calories?
Energy is needed for all bodily functions. To maintain proper energy balance, children must complement their energy intake with their energy expenditure per day. The total amount of energy expended daily is the sum of the following (Zabriskie et al., 2019):
- Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
- Activity energy expenditure (AEE)
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and
- Thermic effect of food (TEF)
Calories are used as a measure of energy. Calorie (cal with a small c) is used to estimate the energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water at one atmospheric pressure by exactly one degree Celsius. Kilocalorie (Cal with a big C or kcal) is equivalent to 1000 cal. It is more commonly known and is used to refer to the energy derived from food (Osilla et al., 2021).
The overall ability of the human diet to promote quality of health is associated with the total daily caloric and nutrient intakes (Huth et al., 2013). When food is eaten, it is broken down to release these calories, which are either used as energy by the body immediately or stored in the cells for later use (Patton, 2019).
Why are there Different Caloric Requirements for Adolescents?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescence is the stage between childhood and adulthood, and encompasses the ages 10 to 19 years. It is a phase of rapid growth, in terms of physical, cognitive and psychosocial domains.
The National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom (UK) states that children of this age may differ slightly in their energy needs, depending on several factors. These factors, including gender, height, weight, activity level, and age, influence daily caloric intake requirements (Osilla et al., 2021).
Compared to adults, children have different needs in terms of calories. Moreover, specific age groups of children also have different caloric needs (Osilla et al., 2021).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2020-2025 specifies that female adolescents, in general, have lower calorie requirements than their male counterparts (USDA, 2020).
Levels of Physical Activity
Behaviors that are “characterized by an energy expenditure less than or equal to 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs), while in a sitting, reclining, or lying posture” are considered as sedentary (Tremblay et al., 2017). Sedentary also means a lifestyle that involves only physical activities of independent living (USDA, 2020).
- Moderately active
Moderately active means doing physical activities equal to walking up to 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to activities of daily living (USDA, 2020).
An active lifestyle involves doing physical activities equal to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to activities of daily living (USDA, 2020).
Estimated Calorie Needs per Day for a 14-year-old
The UK NHS recommends the following caloric intake per day:
|14 years old||2629 kcal||2342 kcal|
Meanwhile, the DGA 2020-2025 tabulates the daily caloric requirements of a 14-year-old based on gender and level of physical activity as follows (USDA, 2020):
|14 years old||Male||Female|
Healthy Eating During Adolescence
The DGA provides recommendations on how to choose healthy patterns of eating for all Americans (Huth et al., 2013). Aside from adequate amounts of calories, it is also important that the food intake of adolescents is composed of healthy, balanced meals every day.
Both an excessive and too little caloric intake are harmful to a child’s health. Eating too much caloric-dense foods while moving too little causes obesity. In contrast, not enough calories in the diet can cause the body’s metabolism to shut down. In extreme malnutrition and starvation, permanent organ damage may occur (Osilla et al., 2021).
According to the NHS, a balanced every day diet for healthy adolescents should consist of:
- Five portions of different fruits and vegetables
- Starchy foods, including potatoes, bread, pasta and rice, while choosing whole grain varieties whenever possible
- Milk and dairy products, opting for low fat choices when available
- Meals that are good sources of protein, including meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils
It is also important to note that children in their teenage years should not eat too much sugary or fatty foods, such as sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits or chips. Although these appear to be high in calories, they do not contain as much nutrients as other healthier alternatives.
The Food Guide Canada suggests choosing foods “with healthy fats instead of saturated fat”. Highly processed foods should also be limited in the diet of adolescents. These should be eaten sparingly and only in small amounts.
Adolescents need a lot of calories and nutrients for their proper growth and development. Their estimated requirements depend on several factors, such as age, gender and physical activities.
Parents should do their best to provide their adolescent children with healthy, balanced meals every day. Less healthy, processed and fatty foods should be eaten in moderation. Parents who have concerns regarding their children’s weight or food intakes should seek the help of registered dietitians, nutritionists or physicians.