Parents serve as models for adolescents' health behavior

Adolescents tend to model their parents' behavior in eating, smoking, and practicing healthy and unhealthy lifestyle habits, according to research conducted at Iowa State University, Ames.

"Adolescents who are constantly exposed to parents' health-risk behavior, such as poor eating habits, smoking, and drinking will tend to emulate their parents' behavior," said K.A.S. Wickrama, PhD, head of the study.

Wickrama and colleagues interviewed 330 white mid-western adolescents and their parents about their eating, exercise, smoking, drinking, and sleeping habits. The researchers found that individuals tend to pattern an overall health-risk lifestyle. They found that people who practiced one bad habit tended to practice several others, while those who avoided one health risk tended to avoid other health risks. The researchers report their results in the current Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Results of the study showed that adolescents not only emulate their parents' overall health-risk lifestyle but also tend to adopt the same individual good or bad health-related behaviors as their parents. For example, adolescents whose parents smoke, tend to smoke; and kids whose parents regularly exercise tend to exercise as well. These findings held true even after the researchers controlled for the family's social status, which has been shown in previous research to predict health behavior.

In two-parent households, the effects of parents' health-risk lifestyles on adolescents seemed to follow along gender lines. "Boys' health lifestyles more closely resembled their fathers' lifestyles, and girls were more likely to emulate their mothers' behavior," said Wickrama. Although this gender effect determined lifestyle choices, the individual health-risk behaviors did not necessarily fall along same gender lines.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Bureau of Maternal and Ch

Contact: K.A.S. Wickrama, PhD
Center for the Advancement of Health

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