Children and teenagers today often battle weight problems because of bad health habits. Where are these habits being taught? And who is at risk?
A recent study found that student athletes have overall better diet and oral health behaviors than non-athletes, and the girls showed overall better health habits than the boys in both athletes and non-athletes.
The researchers suggested that healthy eating and oral habits be emphasized to teenagers, especially boys.
The lead author of this study was Vuokko Anttonen from the Institute of Dentistry at the University of Oulu, and University Hospital in Oulu, Finland. The study used 68 student athletes in grades seven through nine from two junior high schools in Oulu that offered extra physical education programs than regular schools.
The average age of the participants was 14.6, and 51 percent were boys and 49 percent were girls. They all had taken a computer-based survey on diet and oral hygiene in April 2011.
The study also included a control group of 1,250 students in seventh through ninth grade from other junior high schools that did not offer extra physical education programs. The students in the control group had taken the same survey in 2004, 2006, or 2007. The average age of the controls was 13.3, and 50 percent were boys and 50 percent were girls.
The dietary portion of the questionnaire asked all participants:
• how often they ate breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper
• if they prefer a salad or raw vegetables, or bread during a meals with a warm course
• how often they ate unhealthy snacks such as candy, potato chips, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice, cookies, sweet baked goods, chocolate or raisins — and what was their preference
• if they chew gum, and if so, did the gum have xylitol in it
• if they prefer to drink milk, juice, concentrated juice, light juice, tap water, bottled water, fizzy drinks with and without sugar, energy drinks, or something else while at school and at home
• how much money they spent on snacks per week
The oral hygiene portion of the questionnaire asked the participants about their teeth brushing habits — with the answer options being never or hardly ever, every day or almost every day, or occasionally during the week. If participants answered every day or almost every day, they were then asked to report how many times per day. In addition, they were asked about their toothpaste and dental floss habits.
Lastly, the physically active group was about an extra question asking if they got their oral health information from their parents, school, dental staff, school nurse, coach, friends, the internet, magazines or newspapers, television, or radio.
The researchers found that the physically active participants reported better dietary and oral health habits compared to the control group. The findings also showed that the girls in both groups have better dietary and oral health habits than the boys.
Over 90 percent of the athlete group reported eating all four meals either daily or almost daily. This was the same for both girls and boys in this group. The athlete group was also found to eat these meals more often than the control group, especially for lunch and supper.
Ninety-nine percent of the athletes reported eating lunch every day or almost every day, compared to 89 percent of the control group. For supper, 94 percent of the athletes reported eating it every day or almost every day, versus 74 percent of the control group.
The researchers also found that all the participants preferred the warm course during lunch, but the athletes ate the warm course more often than the control group. Forty-five percent of all the participants reported eating salad or raw vegetables with meals.
The findings also revealed that both groups, especially the athlete group, drank milk and tap water the most out of any other drinks at both school and home. Ninety-four percent of the whole study population reported drinking milk at school, and 96 percent of them reported drinking tap water at school. At home, 86 percent of the whole group said they drank milk at home, and 64 percent chose tap water at home.
The researchers found that the athletes drank fizzy drinks more often at school than the control group — with 13 percent of the athletes reporting fizzy drink consumption at school compared to 8 percent of the control group.
Out of the athletes, 22 percent reported drinking fizzy drinks every day or almost every day, compared to 11 percent of the regular students. In both groups, the findings showed that the boys drank significantly more water than the girls.
The non-athlete students were found to eat more unhealthy snacks than the athletes, and the boys in both groups snacked more than the girls in each group. In addition, the researchers discovered that the athletes spent significantly more money on snacks than the students from the regular schools.
For oral hygiene, 95 percent of all the athletes, and 97 percent of the control group, reported brushing their teeth and using fluoride toothpaste every day. Out of the athlete group, the findings showed that 84 percent brushed their teeth at least twice a day compared to 68 percent of the control group.
The researchers found that the boys in both groups brushed their teeth significantly less often than the girls in each group. Ninety-four of the girl athletes and 76 percent of the girls in the control group brushed at least twice a day, versus 78 percent of the boys in the athlete group and 58 percent of the boys in the control group.
The findings also showed that 25 percent of the athletes and 33 percent of the control group said they skipped brushing their teeth a few times during the week because they were tired and/or didn't feel like it. Less than half of all the participants used dental floss regularly.
For both groups, the researchers found that parents and school were the most common sources for health information. Eighty-six percent of all the boys used their parents more often compared to 72 percent of all the girls. Ninety-six percent of the girls learned about health issues from school, 37 percent said they learned from friends, and 63 percent reported learning about health from newspapers — versus 83 percent, 18 percent, and 38 percent of the boys in each of those categories.
The findings showed that 60 percent of the boys, compared with 49 percent of the girls, learned about health from their coach usually. Also, 85 percent of the boys and 77 percent of the girls said they leard about oral health from a dentist.
Lastly, one third of both the boys and girls reported learning about health from videos, and 45 percent of the boys and 55 percent of the girls named television or radio as the most used health source.
The authors noted a couple limitations.
First, the study group was small. Second, the students' busy schedules made it difficult for them to have time to take the survey.
This study was published online in the November edition of the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry.