Parents' activity doesn't influence teen fitness - especially in girls

While younger children may be more likely to mimic the behaviors of mom and dad – especially where health and fitness habits are concerned – teens aren't likely to follow suit, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany found that while teens who have parents at a healthy weight were more likely to be physically fit, having parents that are more active didn't correspond to higher levels of teen fitness.

Parents may not be role models

The study included 1,328 teens who were surveyed about their health behaviors and their families' and tested on bicycles to determine fitness abilities.

Researchers found that having two parents with normal weight predicted better cardiorespiratory fitness in both boys and girls, but having parents who were physically active didn't change teens' fitness behaviors.

The findings may represent the fact that parents with healthy body weights are more likely to have better nutritional habits – and therefore promote a healthier home environment for teens. Yet study author Eliane Peterhans said that the disconnect may have more to do with the fact that teens are at an age when they don't see their parents as role models anymore.

Healthy behaviors like riding a bike to school, going to the gym and engaging in leisure time predicted cadiorespiratory fitness for teens, suggesting that having an active social life that involves physical fitness might have a stronger influence on teen fitness than behaviors modeled by parents.

More research on girls needed

While boys and girls were more apt to be physically active if they had a robust peer and social life, the association was weaker for girls. And although boys who spent less than two hours a day on "screen time" in front of the computer or television were more likely to be fit than boys who reported more screen time, using electronics didn't seem to have an effect on girls' fitness.

Since family health behaviors were also more strongly linked to teen boys' fitness than girls', a better understanding of how adolescent females are influenced to either become fit or stay sedentary is necessary, researchers said.

"We need more research in girls, especially," said Peterhans. "For example, maybe peer behavior is a more important influence on girls' cardiorespiratory fitness than boys."

Results of the study are published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Source: Center for Advancing Health

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