Unhealthy Lifestyles May Be Fueling Teens' Anger

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 24, 2000 -- From movies to MTV, angry teens seem to be everywhere and more full of rage than ever before. What's making these kids so mad? Some degree of adolescent angst is natural and healthy, but some experts believe that extreme anger may be related to unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking too much caffeine.

The theory is important because studies in adults have shown that hostile people have poorer health habits than their cooler-headed peers. Hostility in adults has been linked to a diet high in animal fat and calories, as well as to smoking. In one recent study, researchers found that men who scored the highest scores on a test that measured how domineering they were had the highest risk of heart disease.

Taking a look at the anger problem in a group of more than 400 teens, Linda Musante, PhD, and Frank A. Treiber, PhD, found that about 50% of the kids who reported using alcohol, and 45% who admitted smoking, in the previous two weeks had a high degree of suppressed anger (anger that they were holding in). Similarly, the study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that 75% of teens who drank caffeinated soda or coffee had a medium or high degree of expressing anger. Musante is with the University of Tampa in Florida, while Treiber is with the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

Suppressed anger was most common among females and older teens. Kids who reported suppressing their anger also tended to be less physically active than their peers.

While expressing too much anger and keeping it inside it too much are equally problematic, suppressing anger in particular has been linked not only to heart disease, but to other health problems such as arthritis, sleep disturbances, and even cancer, Musante and Treiber report.

The study doesn't answer the question of whether drinking alcohol, smoking, or consuming too much caffeine leads to angry outbursts, or whether holding in anger or feeling intense anger leads to unhealthy habits. Whatever the case, it may be difficult to convince kids that how they deal with problems today could affect their health as they age.


"It's an ongoing challenge," says Jane Fitzgerald, PhD. "Teen-agers don't have a good '10-year from now' orientation for the most part."

Fitzgerald, who is director of psychological services for adolescent medicine at the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences in Little Rock, says that trying to scare kids away from smoking by showing them pictures of blackened lungs or explaining how tobacco companies make money from addicted smokers just doesn't work.

"The thing that does seem to work is having positive role models that are around the teen-agers' age --another young person -- who thinks smoking should not be a part of their lifestyle," she says.

Peers and parents also can help steer kids away from alcohol. But keeping the lid on caffeine, which has been shown to affect heart rate and blood pressure, may be more difficult. Fitzgerald says parents should set limits on the amount of caffeinated soda and coffee their teens drink each day. She says most kids, and most adults for that matter, shouldn't consume more than two cans of caffeinated soda or one or two cups of caffeinated coffee per day.


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