Should adolescents be specifically targeted for nutrition in developing countries? To address which problems, and how?
Concern for nutrition in adolescence has been rather limited, except in relation to pregnancy. This paper reviews adolescent-specific nutritional problems, and discusses priority issues for the health sector, particularly in developing countries. Chronic malnutrition in earlier years is responsible for widespread stunting and adverse consequences at adolescence in many areas, but it is best prevented in childhood. Iron deficiency and anaemia are the main problem of adolescents world-wide; other micronutrient deficiencies may also affect adolescent girls. Improving their nutrition before they enter pregnancy (and delaying it), could help to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and contribute to break the vicious cycle of intergenerational malnutrition, poverty, and even chronic disease. Food-based and health approaches will oftentimes need to be complemented by micronutrient supplementation using various channels. Promoting healthy eating and lifestyles among adolescents, particularly through the urban school system, is critical to halt the rapid progression of obesity and other nutrition related chronic disease risks. There are pressing research needs, notably to develop adolescent-specific anthropometric reference data, to better document adolescents' nutritional and micronutrient status, and to assess the cost-effectiveness of multinutrient dietary improvement (or supplements) in adolescent girls. Our view is that specific policies are needed at country level for adolescent nutrition, but not specific programmes. (author's)