Fit Teens May Be Safer Teens

Physical activity helps ward off bad behaviors, study shows

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TUESDAY, April 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The key to keeping kids on the straight and narrow may lie in keeping them physically fit and away from the TV.

A new study finds that teens who take part in many different kinds of physical activity -- particularly with their parents -- are less likely to get involved in drinking, drugs, violence, smoking, sex, and delinquency than teens who spend a lot of time in front of the television.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported the findings in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at seven different "clusters" of teens. These clusters were defined by physical or "couch potato" activities frequently engaged in by teens. Examples of clusters include:

  • Teens who often played sports with their parents and who also spent a lot of time playing sports overall;
  • Skaters/gamers -- teens who did a lot of skateboarding, bicycling, and playing video games;
  • High TV/video viewers, who made their own decisions about TV viewing and watched a lot of TV;
  • Teens who often used recreation centers;
  • Teens who often took part in school activities, including sports and clubs.

The researchers found that kids who focused on fitness and activity were less likely to take up drinking, illicit drug use, violent behavior, sex and delinquency.

On the other hand, "adolescents who spend a lot of time watching TV or playing computer video games tend to be at higher risk for engaging in all of these risky behaviors," study co-author Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen, assistant professor of nutrition, said in a prepared statement.

"Anything we can do to get kids to be physically active will help them in terms of their physical health, but this research suggests that engaging in a variety of activities may also have social, emotional, and cognitive benefits, including reduced likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as drinking, drugs, violence, smoking, sex, and delinquency," Gordon-Larsen said.

She and her colleagues also assessed the teens' self-esteem and found that the risk of poor self-esteem was lowest for teens who played sports with their parents.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teens and exercise.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina, news release, April 3, 2006

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