Teens pick up numerous unhealthy habits in high school

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waterloo — Kids enter Grade 9 living a fairly healthy lifestyle but by graduation they pick up enough bad habits to be at a significantly higher risk for chronic diseases, a University of Waterloo study has found.

Smoking, marijuana use, binge drinking and physical inactivity skyrocket over the four years of high school.

"When they're entering high school, they're in pretty good shape," said Scott Leatherdale, an associate professor in the University of Waterloo's School of Public Health and Health Systems.

By Grade 12, he said, "they're participating in a lot of risk behaviours that are going to substantially increase their risk for chronic disease."

Overall, only half a per cent of Canadian high school students don't have bad habits that put their health in danger.

The study, published in the latest issue of BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health this month, looked at seven major modifiable risk factors for disease: smoking, marijuana use, binge drinking, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle and inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables.

"When you look at kids in Grade 9, they're not doing bad with most of them," Leatherdale said.

Although, he added, it's tough to find students at any age who are eating adequate servings of fruits and vegetables and are not sedentary. The vast majority surveyed did not meet Health Canada's minimum activity guidelines and reported inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.

Over the four years of high school, there was an increase in smokers by 170 per cent, 167 per cent for binge drinkers and 124 per cent for marijuana users.

Leatherdale was surprised by the number of teens who have multiple risk factors. More than a third of Grade 12 students had three, while about a quarter had four modifiable risk factors.

"That's when it gets very problematic," he said, adding that evidence suggests more than one risk factor can increase the likelihood of serious disease.

His research is following teenagers through high school to understand why these unhealthy habits begin and how to intervene, with the goal of giving schools evidence-based intervention plans.

"Something seems to shift dramatically between Grade 9 and 12," Leatherdale said. "The concern is those things have the potential to follow those kids through their life."

Children spend much of their day in school, where they can be influenced by people, programs, policies and resources to adopt more healthy lifestyles. However, he said, "I think what we're doing is failing."

And that's happening in school boards across the country as shown by the study, which used data collected from more than 31,000 students in Grade 9 to 12 who responded to the substance use section of the 2010-11 Canadian Youth Smoking Survey.

Schools understandably concentrate on academics, but these findings show it's vital to also make health promotion a priority. Now Leatherdale said schools focus on preventing unhealthy behaviours one at a time, and often the focus is on substance use and other important risk factors, such as balanced eating are neglected.

He wants a more comprehensive approach in schools that looks at multiple risk factors to encourage youth to adopt healthy lifestyles. Otherwise, the impact of chronic illness will be profound on the health care system and economy.

The way people behave as adolescents, they tend to behave that way as adults.

Source: http://www.therecord.com/news-story/3846693-teens-pick-up-numerous-unhealthy-habits-in-high-school/

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