Dietary intake plays an important role in the development and health of children and adolescents. Puberty is a particularly vulnerable period due to the increased nutrient demands associated with growth. This age range has also been associated with various changes in health behavior. While several studies have examined the influence of the social and built environment on dietary habits during adolescence, there remains limited research on the association between biological maturation and eating behaviors as well as food intake in youth.
This cross-sectional study includes data from 165 participants (55% male) between 11 and 16 years of age. The study protocol was approved by the University of Innsbruck Institutional Review Board as well as the school board and principals of the participating schools. Body weight and height was measured with an electronic scale and a portable stadiometer during a regular physical education class with participants wearing gym clothes and being barefoot. Subsequently, maturity offset was calculated, and biological maturation was determined based on estimated age at peak height velocity. A standardized questionnaire administered during regular class-time was used to assess dietary intake and eating habits. Principal component analysis revealed 3 main factors for food intake (meat/carbohydrates, milk/cereal, water/low fast food), which were used in the analyses.
There were no differences in eating habits between boys and girls. Boys, however, displayed higher scores for the meat/CHO factor while their scores for the water/low fast food factor was lower compared to girls. There was no difference in eating habits or dietary intake across maturity tertiles in boys. Late maturing girls, however, reported less frequent lunch and dinner as well as higher milk/cereal factor scores compared to their peers.
Biological maturation appears to contribute to changes in dietary intake and eating habits, particularly in girls. Late maturing girls may be at particular risk for irregular eating patterns. Family meals, therefore, may be an important component in the establishment of healthy dietary patterns in adolescents.