A recent study reveals only about half of U.S. adolescents are physically active five or more days of the week and fewer than one in three eat their daily serving of fruits and vegetables. The results pose concern for a nation currently facing a widespread obesity epidemic.
The researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) surveyed 39 states and questioned nearly 10,000 students, between the ages of 11 and 16, about their daily physical activity and eating habits.
The researchers asked the participants what their daily amount of physical activity was, 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. Students who were surveyed were also asked about their emotional health, body image, and overall satisfaction with their life.
"The students showed a surprising variability in eating patterns," said lead author Ronald J. Iannotti, Ph.D., of the NIH Institute's Prevention Research Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "But most -about 74 percent- did not have a healthy pattern."
The researchers classified the adolescents' diet and activity into three separate categories: healthful, unhealthful, and typical. The unhealthful group accounted for 26 percent of the participants, and was the group that consumed the most sweets, chips, French fries, and soft drinks. The unhealthful group also ranked highest for the most television watchers, video game players, and computer users. In fact, more than 70 percent of students watched TV more than two hours a day.
Interestingly, despite the unhealthful groups' high caloric intake, they were more likely to be underweight and report symptoms of depression and poor health symptoms such as backaches, stomachaches, headaches, or dizziness. This indicates that a low or healthy body mass index (BMI), a measurement that determines healthy and unhealthy weights, does not indicate a person's healthy diet or exercise routine. This could pose a problem for the American Medical Association, which recently recognized obesity as an official disease based on an individual's BMI.
Adversely, the healthful group accounted for 27 percent of the participants, whose group rated the highest in exercise frequency. Nearly 65 percent of the healthful group reported exercising five or more days a week. These were the students that were also less likely to spend time in front of a screen and the highest percentage to eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day. Following suit, they were also less likely to consume sweets, soft drinks, chips, and French fries, which may also account for their low rates of depression symptoms and their highest rates of life satisfaction, indicating a relationship between healthy lifestyles and an individual's happiness.
The largest percentage of participants fell into the typical group, accounting for 47 percent who were the least likely to exercise five or more days each week or eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day. Even though they didn't eat fruits and vegetables as often, they didn't frequently consume junk food such as sweets, chips, fries, or soft drinks either. The typical group participants were more likely to be overweight or obese and feel dissatisfaction with their body image.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate, the recommended amount of physical activity for children and adolescents six to 17 years old is 60 minutes each day, with vigorous to intense levels of exertion at least three days a week.
Adolescents are clearly falling short of such recommendations, due to spending more time in front of the television than outside playing; this has become a concern and a priority to the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let's Move! Campaign in 2010 to break the bad eating habits and poor quality of food that floods the supermarket shelves, strategically placed at a child's eye level.
According to the Campaign's website, too much TV and time spent in front of the computer are not only associated with attention problems in kids and young adults, but also negative impacts on waistlines.
Bad habits are what deteriorate a child's health and chances of a healthy future. Parents need to play a more active role in the wellbeing of their child because, according to the NIH study on physical activity standards and fruit and vegetable consumption, children are losing the quality of their body image as well as satisfaction with their lives.