America's Young Adults Less Healthy Than Teens

Rates for smoking, obesity and other ills rise steeply after high school, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 18, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- By the time they reach early adulthood, most young Americans have already adopted at least one of the unhealthy behaviors -- smoking, alcohol abuse or overweight/obesity -- that contribute to the leading causes of death.

That's the sobering conclusion of a study from the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

"When they were young teenagers, most of the participants had fairly healthy behaviors. What's really alarming is how rapidly healthy practices declined by the time the participants reached young adulthood," study project officer Christine Bachrach, chief of NICHD's demographic and behavioral sciences branch, said in a prepared statement.

The research also identified major health disparities between racial groups and found that Americans are less likely to have access to healthcare when they reach adulthood than when they were teenagers.

Reporting in the January issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the researchers analyzed data from more than 14,000 young adults who were first interviewed from 1994 to 1995 when they were 12 to 19 years of age. They were interviewed again in 2001 and 2002, when they were 19 to 26 years old.

Participants were asked about their diet, inactivity, tobacco use, obesity, substance use, binge drinking, history of violent behavior, reproductive health, mental health, and access to healthcare.

Most bad habits increased steeply as the teenage years gave way to young adulthood. For example, only five percent of young white women reported no weekly exercise during their adolescent years. That increased to 46 percent in early adulthood.

"These findings underscore the importance of ongoing preventive efforts related to smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity, and alcohol consumption, early in the life course," the study authors wrote.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about healthy living.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, news release, Jan. 11, 2006

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