Scientists studying the huge increase in childhood obesity finally have some good news to report. Ronald Iannotti, chair of UMass Boston’s Exercise and Health Sciences Department, is the principal investigator of a new study that shows U.S. teens are eating more vegetables and fruit, exercising more, and watching less TV.
The study appears in the current issue of Pediatrics. Between 2001 and 2009, the research team surveyed more than 9,000 students between the ages of 11 and 16 about their behaviors and their body mass index (BMI). The results show that teens are making healthier eating choices and choosing exercise over sedentary activity.
The teens’ BMI did not increase significantly in the last four years of the survey, which indicates a possible “leveling off” of obesity among young people.
“We’re on the right track, but we still have work to do,” says Iannotti. “While physical activity levels have gone up, they’re still below the recommended levels for teens. Teens are eating more servings of vegetables than they did before, but less than the recommended amount.”
Teenagers should get 60 minutes of physical activity per day and eat five servings of vegetables. Iannotti says that typical teens eat only one or two servings of vegetables daily, and exercise far less than 60 minutes.
The improved health behavior patterns held across all ethnicities, though there were some differences between boys and girls. Girls ate more fruits and vegetables than boys, but also had more sweets. Boys engaged in more physical activity than girls, but also watched TV and played video games more frequently. Girls and boys were both interested in exercise that involved social interaction, but boys were more interested in competitive play. These insights could help parents, doctors, and teachers encourage girls to keep participating in physical activities through their teens.
Iannotti says that the results of the study indicate that public health messages around exercise and healthy eating are working–but lasting improvement will require contributions from everyone. In order to beat the obesity epidemic, “It’s going to take a full court press. Whole families need to get involved–parents have to engage in physical activity, too.”
The study, “Trends in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, Diet, and BMI Among U.S. Adolescents, 2001-2009,” was administered through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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