The Economic and Social Research Council released a new study (pdf) that directly links unhealthy behaviors in children to unhappiness.
Surveying more than 40,000 households in the United Kingdom, the Economic and Social Research Council discovered a number of key factors that could help social agencies, parents, and schools more adequately prepare children for healthier adulthood. The study pinpoints the age at which children usually begin making more unhealthy choices because of increased autonomy.
According to the study, by age 12 or 13, teens and tweens begin to make choices that are less influenced by their parents and more influenced by their friends and extended social circles. Forty-one percent of 13-15 year olds had reported consuming alcohol within the previous month, while 11 percent had reported smoking cigarettes. Only 12 percent of the same age group consumed five or more servings of vegetables and fruits.
Measuring those levels of consumption (healthy and unhealthy) against the teens’ and tweens’ level of happiness, there was a significant correlation between unhealthy lifestyle choices and unhappiness. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, “Children and young people who choose unhealthy activities have dramatically lower happiness levels than those with healthier lifestyles.” This correlation was true across the board, without regard to gender or income.
Of the five thousand 10-15 year old teens and tweens who participated in the study, those who reported consuming alcohol within the previous month were more than five times more likely to be unhappy than their alcohol-imbibing counterparts. Those who had reported smoking were also five times less likely to report a sense of happiness or well-being than their non-smoking peers. Additionally, children who participated in sports were more likely to be happy, with more hours spent participating in sports contributing to more happiness.
Dr. Cara Booker, co-author of the study, explained, “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 behaviors and wellbeing in adulthood. Helping young people 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 wellbeing and poor health-related behaviors.”
Parents, schools, and communities should take this data to heart and increase their focus on ensuring that teens and tweens have access to healthy fruits and veggies and plenty of activity while educating youths about the risks involved in drinking and smoking.