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Study Reveals Major Improvements in Teens' Activity Levels and Diets

Update Date: Sep 16, 2013 09:37 AM EDT
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In a long-term, large-scale study, data reveals that anti-obesity programs that aim to educate young children and teenagers might be paying off. Recent findings suggest that teenagers are starting to eat better and exercise more. These rates could indicate a stall in childhood obesity numbers within the next few years and a reduction in medical care costs.

"It's only recently, in the past decade, that some studies have begun to see some leveling off," commented Ronald Iannotti in regards to the obesity epidemic reported by USA Today. Iannotti is one of the co-authors of the study and the chairman of the department of exercise and health sciences at the University of Massachusetts located in Boston. "Seeing this pattern is very encouraging."

For this study, Iannotti worked with co-author Jing Wang at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethseda, MD. Together, they looked at a nationally representative group of 35,000 children who were between the ages of 11 and 16. The data on these children were collected in 2001, 2005 and 2009. The data provided information about the children's diets, level of physical activity, and height and weight used to calculate body mass index (BMI).

The researchers calculated that from 2005 to 2009, the average BMI decreased from 62.33 to 62.07. However, the over the span of the entire study, the average BMI increased. According to the researchers, the BMI rate changes were not statistically significant because there was no change. The researchers did find that from 2001 to 2009, physical activity increased even though children were still not getting the recommended daily level of exercise, which is an hour or more every day of the week. The researchers had found that the number of days that the adolescents were exercising increased from 4.33 to 4.53.

When it came to eating breakfast, which several studies have reported is the most important meal of the day, the average number of days per week when children ate breakfast increased from 2.98 to 3.25. On top of this, the researchers also found that children were consuming more fruits and vegetables. From 2001 to 2009, the team calculated that vegetables consumption increased from an average of two to four days a week to almost five days a week. For fruits consumption, the rate rose from two to four days a week to five to six days. The consumption of soda and other sugary beverages fell from nearly five drinks a day to around four drinks a day.

"Over the previous decades, the pattern had been that kids were getting less physical activity, and it's been very hard to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption," Iannotti said. "We've got a long way to go, but the good news is that those are increasing."

The researchers also calculated statistics for other factors that could contribute to obesity, which included social media and television. The study was published in Pediatrics

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