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September 16, 2013 | 3 minute read

Teens Eating Healthier; May Bode Well for Future Cancer Risk

American teens are eating slightly more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets, while upping their activity, according to a new study that offers a glimmer of positive findings for improvements among adolescent’s health.canstockphoto14620946

The study, published in Pediatrics, focused on adolescent’s eating and other lifestyle habits. Like adults, there are numerous health reasons for teens to eat well and exercise. What is less well known is the growing body of research suggesting that diet, activity and weight as teenagers – when the body is developing – may play a role in cancer risk decades later.

In this study, researchers asked three different groups of 6th through 10th graders about their eating and exercise habits over eight years. The first group — about 15,000 students – answered the survey questions during the 2001-2002 school year. Four years later a second group of students answered the same questions; and four years later the third group. All the groups were representative of US adolescents nationwide.

Throughout the study period, all the teens were getting less than the recommended 60 minutes of activity fewer than five days a week. But the latest group of teens came slightly closer to getting the recommended amount of activity closer to five days a week compared to the students eight years earlier.

Students in the later years were also watching less TV, closer to two hours a day than the three hours they were watching in 2001. The amount of time playing video games and using the computer – each about or less than an hour and half a day – stayed about the same. (The study started looking at computer and video use only in 2005 group.)

Fruit and vegetable intake edged up slightly over the eight years, and the 2010 teens were eating slightly fewer sweets every week. But although behavior patterns appeared to improve, weight did not. Using BMI as a measure of weight, the study found that the percent of adolescents who were overweight increased slightly from 2001 to four years later, then leveled out by 2010.

One of the latest studies on adolescent lifestyle and later cancer risk focused on meat intake and colorectal adenomas. Adenomas are benign tumors but they increase risk for cancer. This study, partially funded by AICR, found that high-school aged teens who replaced their red mean intake with chicken had lower risk of adenomas decades later.

A commentary in the same issue of American Journal of Epidemiology highlights the research in this area and calls for more research incorporating measures of early lifestyle into adult-onset cancer research.

For more about this, we’ve written about adolescents’ lifestyle habits and later breast cancer risk before.

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