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Healthy Behaviors in Adolescence

Other than the first year of life, there is no other developmental period during which individuals grow more than during the period of adolescence.1 These years are the time to form positive habits that will improve adolescents’ long-term health and well-being. Three behaviors are especially important to support health into adulthood: eating a nutritious diet, being active, and getting a good night’s sleep.2,3,4 On a typical day, almost 40 percent of calories consumed by 2- to 18-year-olds come from solid fats and sugars, and only a quarter of students get the recommended eight hours of sleep on a school night.5,6,7 Almost one quarter of adolescents spend at least three hours a day watching television, and 40 percent of adolescents spend at least three hours a day on a computer doing something that is not school work.7 Family factors, like siblings being active and support from parents, can help adolescents get and stay active.8

Resources on Nutrition in Adolescence

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work Online Resource Center provides tools to support environmental changes that address obesity. These resources describe why environmental changes are at the heart of making healthy living easier, and how to execute those changes.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has several sites dedicated to helping Americans improve their diets. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes age-specific recommendations about overall calorie consumption and individual nutrient intake. ChooseMyPlate.gov helps users put those guidelines into practice.
  • Nutrition.gov provides information on all foods and has a designated Teens page with interactive learning tools for adolescents, and resources for parents and teachers.

The Adolescent Health Library has additional resources on healthy behavior and healthy eating.


1 DeHart, G., Sroufe, A. & Cooper, R. (2004). Child development: Its nature and course. (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw, Hill.
2 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2015). Scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Physical activity guidelines for Americans midcourse report: Strategies to increase physical activity among youth. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/midcourse/pag-mid-course-report-final.pdf.
4 Perry, G.S., Patil, S.P., & Presley-Cantrell, L.R. (2013). Raising awareness of sleep as a healthy behavior. Preventing Chronic Disease, 10. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/13_0081.htm
5 Reedy, J., & Krebs-Smith, S. M. (2010). Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(10), 1477-1484.
6 McKnight-Eily, Lela R., et al. (2011) Relationships between hours of sleep and health risk behaviors in U.S. adolescent students. Preventive Medicine, 53(4), 271-273.
7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(8). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf.
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Youth physical activity: The role of families. Washington, DC: Division of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/toolkit/factsheet_pa_guidelines_families.pdf


Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on August 6, 2019