Less than 1% of adolescents are meeting all four daily obesity-prevention behaviors:

  1. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables
  2. Spending less than two hours in front of the TV or computer
  3. At least one hour of exercise
  4. No sugar-sweetened drinks

While some teens are meeting each goal separately, only 9% are eating the recommended servings of produce, according to a presentation last Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Society meeting in Toronto.

“Adolescence is when we start forming lifelong habits, so these results are not encouraging,” said Jennifer Foltz, MD, a pediatric fellow and attending physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Even still, small changes can completely reverse these data, and adolescents can develop healthier lifelong habits that could prevent obesity.”

Dr. Foltz and her research colleagues found  only 0.4% of adolescents meet all four obesity prevention objectives. Nine percent ate five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables; 27% spent two or fewer hours in front of the TV or computer every day; 32% had an hour or more of daily physical activity; and 14% had no sweetened beverages

Most importantly, 41% did not meet any of the prevention goals. The majority (56%) ate one or less fruit or vegetable a day. Over time, they could add an apple for a snack or have a salad, in addition to a vegetable at dinner. This would make a big difference, Dr. Foltz said.

Similarly, if the 22% of teens who spend five or more hours in front of a TV or computer traded some of that time for a walk—or if the 43% who drink three or more servings of sweetened beverages switched to water—the lifelong impact could be huge, Dr. Foltz said.

“Clinicians and community leaders need to focus on these four simple goals to get the message across to adolescents and families that small changes can reap lifelong benefits,” Dr. Foltz said. “Doctors should be talking to their patients about nutrition, physical activity and screen time, and the public-health community should be promoting and increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables, while decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Recommended Reading: The Organic Salad Garden