Not enough teens in the U.S. are getting their recommended daily exercise or eating enough fruits and vegetables, according to a new study from government researchers.
National Institutes of Health researchers found that fewer than one in three kids between ages 11 and 16 in the U.S. eat fruits and vegetables every day, and only about half of kids in this age group get five or more days of physical activity in a week.
"The students showed a surprising variability in eating patterns," study researcher Ronald J. Iannotti, Ph.D., of the Prevention Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement. "But most -- about 74 percent -- did not have a healthy pattern."
To conduct the Journal of Adolescent Health study, researchers interviewed 10,000 students ages 11 to 16 about how long they exercised each day, the amount of screen-time they got, what kinds of foods -- healthy or unhealthy -- they ate, and their depression symptoms/life satisfaction ratings. Researchers found they were able to split the students up into three general categories, based on their answers to the researchers: healthful (27 percent), unhealthful (26 percent) and typical (47 percent).
Researchers found that all three categories of students had room to improve on their healthy lifestyle habits. Only 65 percent of the healthful group exercised for at least five days a week, which is at least more than the unhealthful or typical groups. However, this group was more likely than the others to eat daily produce, eat little junk food (sweets, chips, French fries and soda) and have a low depression symptom rate.
Meanwhile, the "typical" group was the least likely of all the groups to get at least five days of exercise or to eat daily fruits and vegetables, and were more likely than both groups to have low body image and to be obese or overweight. They spent more time being sedentary in front of a screen than the healthful group but not the unhealthful group. And while they didn't eat fruits and vegetables with any regularity, they didn't eat junk food with any regularity either.
The unhealthful group, on the other hand, ate the most junk food of all the three groups, and spent the most time being sedentary in front of a screen. Kids in this group were, oddly, more likely to be underweight, and were also more likely to report physical health problems than the other two groups.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all kids and adolescents should get at least an hour of exercise a day, with most of it including aerobic exercise.
The CDC also recommends that high-school age girls eat at least 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day, and high-school age boys consume at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables a day. According to 2010 data, more than a quarter of students ate fruit once a day or not at all, while about a third of students ate vegetables once a day or not at all.