American teenagers are eating more vegetables, getting more exercise, watching less television, and eating fewer portions of junk food that’s high in sugar, according to a new study by the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Researchers collected data on 35,000 children aged 11 to 16 from 2001 to 2009. They found that average Body Mass Index (BMI) for the teens dropped between 2005 and 2009, and that over the course of the total decade, consumption of fruits and vegetables nearly doubled from two to four days per week to five or six days per week. Younger Americans also ate breakfast more times per week over this period, while their weekly sugary drink consumption fell by 20 percent. The number of days they exercised for at least 60 minutes went up significantly from 4.33 days per week to 4.53 days per week.
The study is the latest in a series of encouraging reports suggesting that Americans are beginning to take better care of their physical health. “It’s only recently, in the past decade, that some studies have begun to see some leveling off [in behavior that causes obesity],” said lead study author Ronald Iannotti.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that adult obesity rates had risen by a mere 0.2 percent between 2011 and 2012 — a significant decrease from previous years. Other surveys suggest parents may be promoting similar behaviors in their children. For instance, the obesity rate for low-income U.S. children fell significantly for the first time in history between 2008 and 2011.
These lifestyle changes may be a consequence of changing attitudes about personal health and obesity. But the available data suggests that regulatory changes in nutrition and physical education programs may be driving the positive trend, too. According to the CDC, almost half of all public school districts had banned junk food in vending machines as of last month — a trend that will only continue as new rules go into effect limiting the amount of salt, sugar, and fat that can be used in school cafeterias and vending machines beginning in the 2014–2015 school year.