A new UK study suggests teenagers are not as invincible as they might think when it comes to health, and that an unhealthy lifestyle is linked to unhappiness.
In the study, researchers discovered teens who drink, smoke and eat junk food are significantly unhappier than their healthier peers.
Investigators discovered the time period between 12 and 13 years of age is often the critical transition when some young people turn away from the healthier habits of their younger years.
Researchers reviewed information found in a long-term study of 40,000 UK households. They analysed the responses of 5,000 young people between the ages of 10-15 to questions about their health-related behaviours and levels of happiness. The results showed that:
- Young people who never drank any alcohol were between four and six times more likely to have higher levels of happiness than those who reported any alcohol consumption;
- Youth who smoked were about five times less likely to have high happiness scores compared to those who never smoked;
- Higher consumption of fruit and vegetables and lower consumption of crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks were both associated with high happiness;
- The more hours of sports that young people participated in per week, the happier they were.
Researchers believe the data shows that unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol and a lack of exercise are closely linked to substantially lower happiness scores among teenagers. This finding persists even when socio-demographic factors such as gender, age, family income and parent’s education are taken into account.
Twelve percent of 13-15 year olds reported that they smoked compared with 2 percent of 10-12 year olds. Surprisingly, 41 percent of 13-15 year olds reported that they had a drink in the last month — as compared to 8 percent of 10-12 year olds.
Perhaps not surprising is the finding that between the ages of 13 and 15, when young people are given more autonomy over their lifestyle choices, their food consumption becomes less healthy and their participation in exercise goes down.
Only 11 per cent of those aged 13-15 years reported consumption of 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day and even amongst the 10-12 year olds less than a fifth reported eating fruit and vegetables 5 or more times per day.
Cara Booker, Ph.D., one of the co-authors of the research said: “What this research shows us is that young people across the social spectrum are failing to eat healthy balanced diets and are starting to consume alcohol at a young age.
“This is storing up problems for later life, because we know that there are clear long-term links between health-related behaviours and well-being in adulthood.
“Helping young people to reduce damaging health choices as they start making independent decisions is important in order to reduce the number of adults at risk from chronic disease because of their low well-being and poor health-related behaviors.”