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Prevention of bad lifestyle habits should be tackled even before 13 years

Bad eating habits, ingestion of alcohol, sedentary lifestyles - all unhealthy life habits that are already being detected in early adolescence and that are especially predominant amongst women and young people between the ages of 19 and 26. The prevention campaigns should take very much into consideration these groups at risk and even take into account those less than 13 years. These are some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the PhD thesis presented at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) by researcher Marta Arrue, with the title, Lifestyle habits and psychological factors in adolescence and youth in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAV-EAE).

Ms Arrue studied 2,018 young people from the CAV-EAE who were asked to fill in various questionnaires. With the gathered data, she collated and analysed habits of life according to sex and age (adolescents from 13 to 17; young persons from 18 to 26).

16 years, crucial

The data point to the fact that young persons show more risk behaviour than expected, more even than they themselves perceive, believing that they are healthier than they really are. The least healthy habits turn out to be eating ones, followed by ingestion of alcohol, sedentarism, risks involving sexual relations, the consumption of tobacco and drugs and, finally, low quality or insufficient sleep.

By age, it is notable that risk behaviour presents itself in early adolescence and that all the habits, except sleep, worsen with the passing of the years. Ms Arrue concluded that special attention has to be paid to adolescents of 16 years: this is the point of no return, as it were; the age in which either healthy activities are opted for or risk behaviour patterns arise. With respect to gender, women show greater risk conduct than men. The weak point of women is sedentarism, tobacco, sleep, risk of becoming pregnant and sexually transmitted diseases. Men, on the other hand, show weaknesses with alcohol, illegal drugs and eating.

Ms Arrue also concluded that risk factors tend to be associated in a simultaneous manner, although healthy behaviour also. There is a correlation, for example, between physical activity or lack thereof with the consumption or otherwise of alcohol and tobacco. This means that the importance of a single risk habit by itself should not be minimised, as it can carry others along with it. But, at the same time, it also facilitates prevention campaigns, given that encouraging single healthy lifestyle habit can bring other good behaviour in its train.

Psychological factors

This thesis not only described habits of life, but also undertook a co-relational analysis between these and the psychological state of the persons studied, this being one of the main contributions of the PhD. The results show that adolescents and young people with healthy life habits have higher self-esteem, better psychological wellbeing, greater satisfaction with their bodies and fewer psychopathological indicators. Ms Arrue stated that there is a loop feedback effect between habits and psychological condition: good habits benefit psychological health; optimum psychological conditions facilitating having a healthy life.

Precisely, given positive correlations such as these, the researcher highlights the importance of taking into account the multiple variables surrounding the lifestyle habit when launching awareness/prevention campaigns. Apart from the psychological factor, she suggests that cultural and economic factors should be considered, as well as legal (the scant protection afforded to minors as regards alcohol and tobacco). Ms Arrue reminds us that tendency to bad habits is not due to lack of information, as has been borne out by the numerous campaigns undertaken, and so other factors must be involved.

Thus, the fight against bad lifestyle habits requires a multifactorial and pluridisciplinary approach, and behoves us to detect the problem as early as possible, especially taking into account the groups at risk (women and young people).


Contact: Amaia Portugal
Elhuyar Fundazioa

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