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Young Adults Picking Up Unhealthy Habits Fast

Smoking and Obesity Rising at Alarming Rates in Young Adults

WebMD Health News

Sept. 1, 2004 -- Young adults may think they're indestructible, but a new study shows they could be in for major health problems in the coming years if current trends continue.

Researchers found that adults aged 18-24 had the highest smoking rates and the largest increases in smoking rates from 1990-2000 among all age groups. They also had large increases in obesity rates. Young men and women in this age group also had low rates of physical activity and a low intake of fruits and vegetables.

Those unhealthy habits could result in a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lung cancer as this generation ages, researchers warn.

Smoking Rates Highest Among Young

In the study, researchers analyzed information gathered by the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 1990 to 2000 and compared the rates of unhealthy behaviors and risk factors by age group.

Researchers found smoking rates were highest among young white men and women at 34%-36%, and this age group also experienced the largest increases (9%-12%) in smoking rates among white men and women and Hispanic women.

In contrast, smoking rates among older adults aged 65-74 decreased among all three ethnic groups studied (whites, blacks, and Hispanics), including a dramatic 11% decrease among these older Hispanic women.

Researchers say the growing prevalence of smoking among young people is especially worrisome because smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the U.S.

Obesity Rising Among All Age Groups

The study, which appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, also showed that obesity rates increased among every age and ethnic group from 1990 to 2000. These increases were large, as the prevalence of obesity rose by more than 10% in many age groups in all ethnicities.

Researchers say the obesity epidemic is especially problematic among black women. Black women had the highest prevalence of obesity at every age. In 2000, nearly 20% of black women were obese by age 18 to 24, and this percentage rose to 36% by age 25 to 44.

The study showed a slight decline in the prevalence of sedentary behavior for most age groups. But 20%-30% of young men and women reported no physical activity in the past month in 2000, and that number rose to 30%-40% among middle-aged and older men and women.

Parallel to the high rates of obesity rates and sedentary behavior, researchers also found many adults didn't eat enough fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet.

Between 35% and 50% of young men and women aged 18-24 ate fewer than three servings of fruits and vegetables in the previous day in 2000.

Researchers say these negative trends show a need for increased efforts to help ward off future illness, such as reducing the fat content in school lunches, changing policies about fast-food sales and portion sizes, increasing physical activity in physical education classes, and opening gyms for young people.

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