American Youth Falling Short On Healthy Lifestyle

By  //  June 28, 2013

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TOO LITTLE EXERCISE, TOO MUCH 'JUNK' FOOD

ABOVE VIDEO: Charlotte Lawson, a licensed, registered dietician, presents tips on teaching teens to eat healthy, including offering healthy foods at home and setting an example by eating healthy with them. Video by eHowHealth.

Based on a survey of activity levels and eating habits of nearly 10,000 youths between 11 and 16 years old from 39 states, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that only half of American youths get the recommended amount of exercise and less than one-third include fruits and vegetables in their daily diet.

The survey participants were asked about their daily amount of physical activity, the amount of time they spent in front of a computer screen or other electronic screen, and the amount of healthy and unhealthy foods they consumed. The students in the study also were asked to describe their body image, emotional health and general satisfaction with life.

Less Than Healthy Lifestyle In Three Out Of Four Adolescents

In an NIH news release, study author Ronald Iannotti, of the prevention research branch of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said “The students showed a surprising variability in eating patterns,” adding, “But most–about 74 percent–did not have a healthy pattern.”

The researchers classified the adolescents’ diet and exercise habits into three general categories: unhealthful, healthful and typical.

POOR TEEN DIET

26 percent of youth surveyed fell into the “unhealthful” category based on poor diet choices and inactivity.

The “unhealthful” group, which comprised 26 percent of the participants, consumed the most sweets, chips, French fries and soft drinks, and also were more likely than the other groups to watch TV, play video games and use a computer more than two hours a day.

Surprisingly, despite the high calorie, high fat and sugar diet, youth in the unhealthful group were more likely to be underweight and to report needing to put on weight.

Also, symptoms of depression and poor physical health, such as backaches, stomachaches, headaches or feeling dizzy were more frequent in the unhealthful group.

The group described by the researchers as “healthful” comprised 27 percent of the youth surveyed, and of those nearly 65 percent reported exercising five or more days per week, which was the highest rate of the three groups.

They were least likely to spend time in front of a screen, most likely to report eating fruits and vegetables at least once a day, least likely to consume sweets, soft drinks, chips and French fries, and reported the lowest rates of depressive symptoms and the highest life satisfaction ratings.

 Youth in the 'typical' category were least likely to eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day.

Youth in the ‘typical’ category were least likely to eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day.

The “typical” group, categorized as such because it was the largest group at 47 percent of survey respondents, were least likely to exercise five or more days each week or to eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day. They were more likely to spend time watching television, playing video games or on a computer than the healthful group, and less likely to do so than the unhealthful group.

Youth in the typical category infrequently ate fruits and vegetables but also infrequently ate sweets, chips or French fries, or drank soft drinks. Being overweight or obese and dissatisfaction with body appearance was more prevalent in this group than in the other two groups.

Focus On Improved Activity Level And Diet Imperative For U.S. Youth

TEENS PLAYING SOCCER

Children and adolescents should get one hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week.

It is clear from this survey and the researchers’ analysis, the findings of which appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, that our American youth are falling short on healthful activity and diet, and all three groups could stand to improve their health habits.

The Centers for Disease Control reports in the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey that, among U.S. high school students, 13 percent are considered obese and 15.2 meet the criteria for being overweight.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents should get one hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week.


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