Study: crime, lack of PE, recreation programs lead U.S. adolescents to couch-potato lifestyles

CHAPEL HILL - Lack of access to school physical education programs and community recreation centers significantly decreases the chance that U.S. adolescents will be physically active, a major new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows.

Living in high-crime neighborhoods also cuts the likelihood of vigorous activity and boosts television and video watching and video- and computer-game playing, pastimes that contribute to obesity and eventual poor health, the study found. Adolescents whose families enjoy higher incomes and whose mothers are better educated tend to be more physically active than others are.

"When we started this research, we were looking at the critical problem of obesity facing our country," said Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen, Dannon Institute postdoctoral fellow in interdisciplinary nutrition science at UNC-CH's Carolina Population Center. "Much of this obesity is due to overly sedentary lifestyles, which lead some teens to become couch potatoes. Our kids on the whole are very inactive and watch too much television, and inactive teens become inactive as adults."

Gordon-Larsen and colleagues conducted their study -- the most detailed of its kind and in some ways unique -- to discover what the United States could do as a society to begin to reduce obesity.

A report on their findings appears in the June issue of Pediatrics, a medical journal. Besides Gordon-Larsen, authors are Drs. Barry M. Popkin, professor of nutrition and project principal investigator at the UNC-CH schools of public health and medicine, and Robert G. McMurray, professor of exercise and sport science.

Researchers analyzed information from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) on 17,666 teen-agers enrolled in the seventh to 12th-grades across the nation in 1996. Data came from detailed, confidential surveys of teens about their experiences, practices and attitudes and included 3,933 non-Hispanic blacks, 3,148 Hispani

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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