On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

When Is My Kid an Adult, According to Nutrition Labels?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: At what age is a person considered an adult as regards nutrient requirements? My daughter is 14, and I want her to take a supplement because of her sketchy eating habits. I developed osteoporosis -- it is now under control, but I do not want this for her. -- F.M., Phoenix

DEAR F.M.: The answer of when to grant “adult” status for nutrient levels varies based on a number of factors. For one thing, every child grows at their own rate; a look back at class pictures will show how growth through childhood, adolescence and adulthood can vary from individual to individual.

Broadly speaking, a child is not a miniature adult. At some time during the adolescent years, ages 13 through 17, the child transitions into their adult body. In some, this occurs rapidly, as evidenced by the frequent need to buy that next-larger size of clothes. (This phase often, but not always, coincides roughly with puberty.)

Pharmaceutical companies must consider this adult/child issue quite carefully. Medication dosages are based on how the drug is expected to act in each given age group, so it is essential to test a given drug on all age groups for which it may be prescribed. Some medications direct you to use adult dosing from age 12 on, while other medicines have separate guidelines up to age 18. That is another reason why it is always important to read and follow directions on medications.

As far as vitamins and minerals are concerned, food labels’ “daily values” are set for adults and children over the age of 4, by which measure your daughter is most definitely in the “adult” category.

But rather than encouraging supplements as the answer to poor eating habits, do your best to educate your daughter regarding the importance of good food and good nutrition -- especially the need for calcium and other minerals for her bones. Young men and women need to understand that our bones are constantly made and remade, and that the first 35 years of life make up the critical period when our bones tend to gain more mass than they lose. This switches during the midlife period, so you want a healthy bone mass in place before the “drain” takes over. Physical activity can help optimize skeletal health throughout life.

If your daughter is not going to be getting all she needs from her diet, a vitamin-mineral supplement might be an alternative, but is not a true solution. Food should always be the priority. Keep in mind that the example you and other adults set is the seed that takes root as your daughter transitions to adulthood. Avoid the “do as I say, not as I do” paradigm, as kids tend to see through this.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.