Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are Teens Getting Healthier? Maybe, Maybe Not

The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has been rising for about as long as anyone can remember. Nevertheless, there are some indications that obesity prevalence may be stabilizing.

How (or if) changing trends in adolescent behavior could be contributing to this stabilization is not known. To find out, researchers examined some key variables related to diet and exercise among adolescents in grades 6-10 over an eight-year period. Their study, published recently in Pediatrics, shows that over the eight-year period there were significant increases in exercise (number of days with at least 60 minutes of physical activity) and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Television viewing and consumption of sweets and sweetened beverages both decreased.

Despite these slight improvements in diet and exercise, body mass index (BMI - a crude measure of obesity) continued to trend upward in adolescents. Nevertheless, the results are considered encouraging by public health officials, in that public education efforts to get kids to exercise more and eat a healthy diet may actually be working.

The decrease in television viewing may just be a reflection of changing tends in technology use. Significantly, adolescents continue to spend a lot of time on video games and on computer use (including chatting, internet, e-mail, social networking, etc.). Video games and computer use (assessed only over the last four years of the study) did not decrease over time; together, they now account for nearly two hours per day among this age group.

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