Healthy behavior from parents helps teenagers maintain healthier habits.

Do adolescents get enough exercise and eat the right foods? Is there too much saturated fat in their diets? In a study published in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed the behavior of almost 900 11-to-15 year-olds and found that nearly 80% had multiple physical activity and dietary risk behaviors. Almost half had at least three risk behaviors, and only 2% met all four of the health guidelines in the study.

Using both physical measurements and surveying techniques, four behaviors were assessed: physical activity, television viewing time, percent calories from fat, and daily servings of fruits and vegetables. In addition, parental health behaviors were sampled.

Fifty-five percent of adolescents did not meet the physical activity guideline, although significantly more boys (59%) than girls (33.6%) did meet the standard. About 30% exceeded 2 hours of television viewing time and the majority of the sample did not meet dietary standards. Only 32% and 11.9% of the sample met the recommendations for fat consumption and servings of fruits and vegetables, respectively.

There was some evidence that parents’ health behaviors were associated with adolescents’ health behaviors. For the girls, two parent health behaviors — never smoking and meeting fruit and vegetable guidelines — were associated with fewer adolescent risk behaviors. Parents’ number of risk behaviors was weakly but positively associated with a higher number of risk behaviors in boys.

Writing in the article, Alvaro Sanchez, PhD, states, “These findings contribute to the body of evidence that most adolescents fail to meet multiple diet and physical activity guidelines and continue to be in need of interventions that target multiple behaviors. Although health promotion programs frequently target multiple behaviors, little is known about the best approaches to stimulating multiple behavior change. . . . Further research is needed to investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of different strategies for promoting multiple behavior change in adolescence” (Courtesy of EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS).  It looks like parents and schools have quite a challenge in trying to get teenagers to improve their health habits to get more exercise and eat healthy foods.


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