Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

February 28, 2007

Adolescents' Diets, Activity Levels Not up to Standards, Study Confirms

Even though many young people are repeatedly told to eat their vegetables and to be more physically active, a new study out of the University of Guelph confirms what has been long suspected: adolescents are filling up on junk food instead and watching TV of giving their bodies the nutrition and activity levels necessary for long-term health.

Less than half of Grade 9 students eat breakfast every day, less than a quarter eat enough fruits and vegetables, and more than 35 per cent are above normal weight, Prof. Susan Evers has found in one of the first long-term studies of young people’s diets and activity levels.

The study also found that students eat, on average, more than three daily servings of foods from the ‘other’ food group – such as soft drinks, french fries and snack foods – and dedicate almost four hours a day to watching television and playing video games.

The results were recently presented at the “Integrating Nutrition Into Pediatric Practice” conference at McMaster University.

“It’s disturbing to see this happening in a younger population because obesity is a risk factor for diseases that we think of as affecting the middle-aged population,” said Evers, of U of G’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition. “These students’ lifestyles are predisposing them to risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.”

Evers, along with former graduate student Amy Pender and current doctoral student Melissa Rossiter, analyzed surveys completed by the same group of 681 students in Grade 6 and then in Grade 9 about their eating behaviours and activity patterns. The students’ height and weight were measured, and demographic information was collected from their parents. The study participants are from low-income neighbourhoods throughout southern Ontario taking part in the provincially funded Better Beginnings, Better Futures initiative.

The researchers found that if students started developing bad eating and physical activity habits in Grade 6, they were worse by Grade 9. Two-thirds of the boys and girls in Grade 6 were eating breakfast every day, and that dropped to 48 per cent for the boys and 45 per cent for the girls by Grade 9.

“Adolescents who skip breakfast don’t usually make up the nutrients they miss later in the day so they have a higher risk of nutrient inadequacies,” said Evers. “Missing breakfast also makes it difficult for students to concentrate in school because of a lack of energy.”

As 10- and 11-year-olds, about nine per cent of the students were meeting all the food-group recommendations in 1992 Canada’s Food Guide, but that figure dropped to only three per cent by the time they reached Grade 9.

Habits around physical activity levels also got worse as students got older. In Grade 6, 64 per cent of boys and 45 per cent of girls played a sport without a coach four or more times a week. By Grade 9, 15-per-cent fewer boys and 20-per-cent fewer girls were playing sports.

“We have to encourage daily physical activity and the adoption of healthy eating behaviours, especially among female adolescents. By increasing the availability of breakfast programs and making provincial guidelines around school nutrition programs and foods sold in vending machines a priority, we would see a big difference in the health of these young people.”

Susan Evers
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 53780, or

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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