Unhealthful activity more common in young adults

Lack of physical exercise up from 5 percent to 46 percent by early adulthood.

Yelena Kibasova

During a typical weekend, students on campus might scarf cheeseburgers, smoke with their friends or spend a night drinking at a party.

According to a study by the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, when American youth hit early adulthood, unhealthful behaviors increase.

“These behaviors and health problems, launched most often during adolescence, lead to the three leading causes of (preventable) death in adulthood,” Linda Bearinger, professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Nursing, wrote in an e-mail.

According to the survey, obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use become more prevalent after high school.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

“(The study) is the most comprehensive study of American teenagers’ health and behavior that’s ever been done,” said Michael Resnick, professor of pediatrics and public health and the director of the Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center in the Department of Pediatrics.

Students from 132 schools nationwide participated in the study. Researchers followed more than 14,000 young adults from adolescence.

The study first surveyed participants in 1994 and 1995 when they were 12 years to 19 years old. Researchers surveyed the group again in 2001 and 2002, when subjects were between 19 years and 26 years old.

Participants answered questions about obesity, inactivity, diet, drinking, health care access, drug use, reproductive health and mental health, according to the study.

For example, researchers found that among white males, a lack of weekly physical exercise grew from 5 percent of those surveyed in adolescence to 46 percent in early adulthood.

The study also found that at adulthood, black males and females were the least likely of all groups to smoke cigarettes, binge drink or use hard drugs.

Similar behavior findings have been found in Minnesota.

In the 2005 CORE survey by Boynton Health Service, researchers surveyed students from area colleges and universities on their tobacco, alcohol and other drug use.

The survey found that 8.3 percent of students 18 years to 24 years old were daily tobacco users. By age 25 and older, 17.6 percent of those surveyed reported using tobacco daily.

“The longer they continue to smoke on occasion… it’s more likely that they will end up being a daily smoker,” said David Golden, survey co-investigator and public health and marketing director at Boynton.

The analysis of the data provides opportunity for health prevention, Resnick said.

“On the one hand, while these findings are certainly a call to action and a wake-up call, they also tell us that we know what to do,” he said. “There’s much that we can do to prevent death, to prevent illness and disability and to promote the health and well-being of all of our young people.”

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill analysis appears in the January 2006 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.