Researchers at the National Institutes of Health surveyed 10,000 students ages 11-16 in 39 states about their physical activity levels, eating habits, emotional health, body image and general life satisfaction.
"The students showed a surprising variability in eating patterns," lead author Ronald J. Iannotti of the Prevention Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement. "But most -- about 74 percent -- did not have a healthy pattern."
The researchers found that the adolescents' diet and activity habits could be classified into three general categories: 26 percent were categorized as unhealthful; 27 percent were described as healthful and 47 percent were classified as typical.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found the typical youth were least likely to exercise five or more days each week or to eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day. They were more likely to spend time watching television, playing video games or on a computer than the healthful group and the unhealthful group. They infrequently ate fruits and vegetables but also infrequently ate sweets, chips or fries, or had soft drinks. This group was most likely to be overweight or obese and dissatisfied with the appearance of their bodies.
Most in the healthful group reported exercising five or more days per week -- the highest rate of the three groups. They were least likely to spend time in front of a TV or computer screen and were most likely to report eating fruits and vegetables at least once a day, while the least likely to consume sweets, soft drinks, chips and French fries. They reported the lowest rates of depressive symptoms and the highest life satisfaction ratings, the study said.
The unhealthful group consumed the most sweets, chips, french fries and soft drinks; were most likely to spend 2 hours or more time in front of a screen. Despite the caloric foods they consumed, these youth were more likely to be underweight and to report needing to put on weight. They were also more likely to report symptoms of depression and of poor physical health, such as backaches, stomachaches, headaches or feeling dizzy, the study said.