Teenagers who turn their backs on a healthy lifestyle and turn to drink, cigarettes and junk food are significantly unhappier than their healthier peers. They run a high risk of chronic disease in later life because of their low well-being and poor health-related behaviours.
This is the conclusion of research published by the Economic and Social Research Council which looked at the responses of 5,000 young people between the ages of 10-15 to questions about their health-related behaviours and levels of happiness.
The results show that helping young people to reduce damaging health choices as they start making independent decisions are important in order to reduce the number of adults at risk from chronic disease because of their low well-being and poor health-related behaviours.
Young people who never drank any alcohol were between four and six times more likely to have higher levels of happiness than those who reported any alcohol consumption. Youth who smoked were about five times less likely to have high happiness scores compared to those who never smoked.
The researchers also found that higher consumption of fruit and vegetables and lower consumption of crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks were both associated with high happiness. Also it was clear that the more hours of sport youth participated in per week the happier they were.
The data showed that unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol and taking no exercise are closely linked to substantially lower happiness scores among teenagers, even when socio-demographic factors such as gender, age, family income and parent’s education are taken into account.
Another key finding of the research was that 12-13 is a catalyst age when young people turn away from the healthy habits of their younger years and start to get involved in risky behaviours. Twelve per cent of 13-15 year olds reported that they smoked compared with two per cent of 10-12 year olds. The figures for alcohol consumption were even more striking with eight per cent of 10-12 year olds reporting having had an alcoholic drink in the last month rising to 41 per cent amongst 13-15 year olds.
Dr Cara Booker, one of the co-authors of the research said: “What this research shows us is that young people across the social spectrum are failing to eat healthy balanced diets and are starting to consume alcohol at a young age. This is storing up problems for later life, because we know that there are clear long-term links between health-related behaviours and well-being in adulthood.
Helping young people to reduce damaging health choices as they start making independent decisions are important in order to reduce the number of adults at risk from chronic disease because of their low well-being and poor health-related behaviours.”