Are fries and fizzy drinks depressing our teens?

The unhealthy life styles of young people in the UK could be damaging their mental health according to a new ISER study. A diet of fast food and fizzy drinks could be causing depression and anxiety amongst the nation’s youth while sporty, healthy-eating teens reported high levels of happiness. The research will be of interest to policy makers and health care planners who are assessing the costs of treating increasing mental health issues among young people.

Analysing the behaviour of thousands of teenagers in the UK, researchers found that teenagers who were consuming fruit and vegetables and enjoying sport had much higher chances of happiness than peers who preferred to eat sweets, crisps, burgers and chips.

The study paints a worrying picture about attitudes to health among British young people, and the impact on their wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Using Understanding Society, the study of households and families in the UK, the researchers found that of 5,000 10-15 year olds, 7 per cent had smoked cigarettes in the previous four weeks and 25 per cent had drunk alcohol in the previous four weeks. Of the younger children, 8 per cent of 10-12 year olds had drunk alcohol in the past month.

Children who smoked were five times less likely to be happy than non-smoking children and those who were drinking alcohol were found to be four to six times less likely to be happy than their non-drinking peers.

Less than 15 per cent of them confessed to eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day but those who did reported much higher happiness scores. Girls were more likely to eat healthier food but boys were more likely to play sport with 37 per cent participation in sport every day compared to 22 per cent of girls. Boys who were active in sports reported much higher levels of happiness than boys who did not.

Researcher Dr Cara Booker said:

“The study shows there are clear associations between health related behaviours and experienced positive and negative well-being. In light of the recent UNICEF report on child happiness we know it would make sense to put interventions in place to help children reduce risky behaviours which might affect their mental health, as well as their physical health, for the rest of their lives."

Well-Being in Adolescence-An Association With Health-Related Behaviours: Findings From Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study by Cara L. Booker, Alexandra J. Skew, Amanda Sacker and Yvonne J. Kelly is published in the Journal of Early Adolescence


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