Can Poor Nutrition Stunt a Teenager's Growth?

Growth and development during the teenage years depends on a variety of factors, including adequate sleep and exercise, hormone levels, overall health and proper nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies can significantly stunt growth, resulting in short stature, delayed development and poor weight gain. If you are concerned about your teenager's growth, consult a doctor for an evaluation. Children and teenagers develop at different rates and what may be normal growth for one may indicate malnutrition and stunted growth in another 1.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Adequate amounts of vitamins A, B, C and D are essential to normal growth and development in teenagers. Vitamin A is necessary for proper eye and immune system development and plays an essential role in skin and cell health. Vitamin C is needed for bone, gum, tooth and blood vessel development. It also assists in collagen production and helps the body absorb certain necessary minerals. Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption and healthy bone development, and the B vitamins are involved in the health of most bodily systems. Because vitamins interact with each other inside the body, any vitamin deficiency can potentially stunt growth.

Mineral Deficiencies

Calcium is one of the most important minerals for growth during the teenage years because it is essential for bone and tooth development. Magnesium and phosphorus are also necessary for bone and tooth development, and potassium is involved in nervous system and muscle function, both of which can influence growth. Too little iron during adolescence can result in iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that impairs the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and stunted growth. Another mineral, zinc, is directly associated with growth.

Protein and Calories

Most teenage boys require between 2,000 and 3,200 calories per day, depending on exact age and activity level, with teenage girls needing 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Failure to take in enough calories can result in weight loss, lack of energy and stunted growth, especially if the calorie deprivation lasts for long periods. Protein is also necessary for growth, with teenagers needing approximately 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to


Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats helps provide teenagers with the vitamins and minerals essential for growth. Although most teenagers are able to obtain enough vitamins and minerals through diet alone, some may require supplementation to prevent or treat deficiency and ensure proper growth. Because excessive intake of some nutrients can cause harm, consult a doctor before administering vitamin or mineral supplements to teens.

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