Examining Teenagers’ Unexpectedly Healthy Habits

When teenagers are healthy, we tend to assume it’s no thanks to their own efforts. Surely the intrinsic strength of a young body is counteracting all the unsuitable food and mouse-potato inertia that its owner inflicts on it. But that’s not how teens themselves see the matter, according to a report released last month by Scarborough Research, based on polling among 13-17-year-olds via the Scarborough Kids Internet Panel.

Sizable majorities subscribed to such statements as “Eating healthy food is important to me” (76 percent), “I usually try to eat balanced, healthy meals” (69 percent) and “I have a healthy diet” (64 percent). And when they don’t eat healthy foods, external factors (including their mothers!) may be to blame. For instance, 57 percent of the survey’s teens said they “would eat more healthy foods if they weren’t so expensive,” and 54 percent said they’d “eat a healthier diet if my mom would prepare it for me.”

Those who don’t eat right seem at least to be aware of the deficiency. Forty-eight percent of respondents agreed that “I need to change my eating habits.” Some have taken a step in that direction: 64 percent said they have “cut back on the amount of fast food I eat.”

The teens also have a sense of which foods are good for them and which aren’t. When they rated the healthfulness of about 20 foods and beverages, top marks went to fresh fruit, raw vegetables, salad, bottled water and cooked vegetables. Rated least healthful were candy, soda, salty snacks, sweet snacks and energy drinks.

Virtuous though they may be about food, a majority of teens responding to the poll (fielded last December and this January) didn’t pretend to be working out all the time. Asked how often they exercise, just 30 percent said they do so “every day.” Forty-nine percent said they exercise “a couple times a week,” while 11 percent said they do so “less than once a week,” 7 percent “almost never” and a brazen 3 percent “never.”

Still, 54 percent of the teens said they’re “getting the right amount of exercise,” and 8 percent said they’re “getting more exercise than I should.” Among the 38 percent who acknowledged getting too little exercise, the main reason was that they’re “too lazy.” Girls were more apt than boys (45 percent vs. 32 percent) to say they’re not getting enough exercise.