Healthy Teens

Teen Health 1

The number of teenagers eating junk food, drinking soft drinks and not exercising regularly is still a problem according to a new survey.

Behaviour and Attitudes, a research company, on behalf of Bayer, a health and lifestyle company, surveyed 501 teenagers from the ages of 16–19 in Dublin and discovered some interesting facts.

The survey was spilt into several categories concerning diet, exercise and how teenagers are feeling. In terms of diet, boys are more likely to eat junk food with (34%) saying they fell into the trap while just (52%) said they eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

Concerning physical exercise: one in three (34%) said they got the recommended 60 minutes of exercise daily, while (21%) were aware they should be getting two hours of physical education in school each week. Males displayed a higher level of physical activity (46%) than females (39%). More males take part in sports (76%) than females (54%).

“We would be concerned that only 34% of teens are aware that they should be getting 60 minutes of exercise per day,” said Sarah O’Connor, the Chief Executive of the Federation of Irish Sport. Sarah also remarked on the numbers indicating that females are less physical than males, saying such involvement would be beneficial in terms of developing team-building skills for later in life.

“These findings show that teenagers have a lot on their plate not only at school but literally as well, because many are eating too much unhealthy food,” said Maureen Mulvihill, the Health Promotional Manager for The Irish Heart Foundation. “The high consumption of fast food and soft drinks – both high in calories – is of particular concern, especially as one in five young people are overweight or obese.”

The survey coincided with several events highlighting unhealthy eating amongst teenagers and the importance of early intervention at childhood. In October, Bayer, The Irish Heart Foundation and the Foundation of Irish Sport launched the second year of their Pumped Schools video competition, where teenagers are encouraged to make a short movie concerning a variety of topics including a topic on healthy eating amongst teens.

Recently the Minister for Health, James Reilly, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, launched a Safefood Campaign on childhood obesity in Pearse Street Library. The all-island initiative, which is supported by the HSE, the Healthy Ireland Framework and Northern Ireland’s Fitter Futures, aims to encourage parents to reduce portion sizes for children and will include a barrage of media promotions through TV and radio.

“Fast food is of course a problem (high calorie, low nutrition), but I’d be more concerned about what the students understand to be appropriate and healthy eating and suitable physical activity,” said Dr. Tara Magdalinski, a Lecturer at the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science in UCD. “The recommended physical education is not always met in schools and if it is, it is often taken casually by students and staff alike.”

Commenting on an aspect of the survey that found teenagers (16%) would prefer to look good rather than feel healthy, Dr. Magdalinski said the survey was partaking in some scaremongering. “It is certainly a concern that any young person would privilege looks over health, but this is a cohort that does not always look at the long-term and who feel 25 years of age is ‘ancient’. Indeed, there is little difference between the number who ‘feel great physically’ and who ‘would prefer to look healthy over looking good’, and yet it’s presented as a radically different perspective. This is annoying.”
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Pictured above: Olympic pentathlete Natalya Coyle and Fergus McFadden at the launch of Pumped Schools.

By Liam Cahill