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High School Kids Get Too Many Sugary Drinks, Too Little Exercise: CDC

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) When it comes to the eating and exercise habits of America's teens, new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paints a decidedly pessimistic picture.

Not only are high school kids guzzling far too many high-calorie sodas, they're also getting very little exercise, the CDC research team found.

In fact, just one in 10 high school boys and girls are meeting the minimum goals for physical activity outlined by in the CDC's recently released "Healthy People 2020" report, the researchers found.

The twin studies -- one on exercise and the other on beverage consumption among high school students -- stem from an anonymous 2010 survey of nearly 11,500 boys and girls in grades 9 to 12 at both public and private schools across 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The findings from the two studies appear in the June 17 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

For example, the CDC has called for youth to engage in a minimum of one hour of aerobic exercise per day, along with a minimum of three hours of muscle-strengthening activity per week.

But just over 15 percent of poll participants met the aerobic objectives, while only about half met the strength-building goal. Only 12.2 percent met both guidelines.

The poll's data on nutrition was no more encouraging. While the survey showed that water, milk and 100 percent fruit juices remain the most popular beverages among teens, it found that the consumption of sodas, sports drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages is all too common.

In the week leading up to the survey, for example, nearly a quarter of the teens said they had drunk soda, while about 16 percent said they consumed a sports drink. Another 17 percent said they had knocked back a sugar-sweetened sports drink at least once a day during that week.

The survey revealed that boys downed more sugar-sweetened beverages than girls. Black teens were also more likely than their white and/or Hispanic peers to drink at least one such beverage per day.

The CDC researchers suggested that combating the popularity of sugar-sweetened drinks is crucial to the battle against childhood obesity. Teens should be encouraged to consume greater amounts of water and low and/or fat-free milk, alongside 100 percent fruit juice, they advised.

With respect to exercise, the CDC team called on schools, communities and health-care facilities to band together to promote physical activity while providing more places to exercise.

Dorothy Teegarden, a professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who was not involved in the study, expressed little astonishment at the survey results.

"Overall, the U.S. drinking trend has seen Americans consuming more and more sugary drinks for quite a while," she said. "So I think placing an emphasis on encouraging teens to drink more milk or other kinds of non-high-fructose or non-sugary drinks is absolutely an appropriate and important approach."

Lona Sandon, a registered nurse and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Dallas, echoed this sentiment.

"Nothing here is surprising," said Sandon, who was not involved in the study. "The problem is that physical activity is not required on a daily basis in most schools. And when that's the case kids are probably not exercising at all, unless they're involved in a sport."

Even if teens are involved in a sport, for many the sport may last only through the fall or spring, Sandon said. During the rest of the year, she said, what many are doing is plopping down in front of their computer screens and playing video games.

"The goal [for schools] should be to create more opportunities for teens to be physically active," she insisted. "And frankly, that might mean bringing back gym class."

"But, Sandon added, "the bigger question is what is happening in the family home, and how [are] physical activity and beverage consumption being modeled by the parents?"

The bottom line, she concluded, is that parents need to try to encourage healthy habits way before kids reach their teens. "Because you have to get to them when they're between 5 and 10, before they become more influenced by what their peers are doing than what their parents say."

More information

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SOURCES: Dorothy Teegarden, Ph.D., professor, department of nutrition science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.; Lona Sandon, R.D., assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Dallas; June 17, 2011, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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