According to a study conducted by the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, less than 1% of teens eat a healthy diet. Less than 1%! The study concluded that if the current generation of teens doesn’t change their lifestyles, they could have a higher risk of heart disease than their parents.
Lead by Christina Shay, an epidemiologist, the research involved 4,673 teenagers between ages 12 and 19 years old monitored from 2005 to 2010. The teens participated in National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, where they would answer diet and exercise questions via phone once every two years and submit occasional blood work and body stats at mobile centers. The teens represented a sample of the 33.2 million in the U.S.
So what did all of Shay’s work prove? American adolescents are increasing their risk for heart disease because of their poor diets and sedentary lifestyle. According to the American Heart Association’s Circulation, of the seven factors that the AHA uses to define optimal heart health, only 45% of boys and 50% of girls met five or more of the criteria. Furthermore, while 44% of girls and 67% of boys exercised an hour or more per day, 23% of girls and 13% of boys were found not to be physically active at all.
The findings worry Shay (and us!), not only because teens are at a higher risk for heart disease, but they are also opening themselves up to a whole slew of health risks as adults, including diabetes and obesity. A big part of the problem? Bad health habits in teen years typically continue throughout one’s life and some issues, like high blood pressure, can be difficult to reverse unless drastic changes to diet and exercise are made.
“If you take this to the logical conclusion, from the path these kids are on if they continue with these trends, then they are likely to have dramatically higher rates of cardiovascular disease than the current adult generation,” Shay told Time.
So what can parents do to help our teens turn this bad health behavior around? As far as getting teens up and active, the American Heart Association suggests picking activities that are fun for them and reducing sedentary hang time (i.e., time in front of the TV, computer, talking on the phone). They also suggest — and here is where our homework comes in — that parents should be role models for their kids by living an active lifestyle too, so power down and get moving!