Studies show exposure to violence linked to high obesity rates in teens and young adults

September 30, 2017

Teens are more likely to indulge in unhealthy food and drinks on days they’ve been exposed to violence, a new study finds. The study published by the Social Science and Medicine journal also found that those same teens often suffered from fatigue the following day. These behaviors lead to weight gain, and in turn, contribute to the fact that more than 20 percent of American adolescents are categorized as obese. Obesity rates are most prevalent among children from low income households, with black and Hispanic children ages 12-19 at the top end of the scale.

Researchers were able to track more than 500 teens’ sleeping habits, thanks to a previous study that collected data on adolescent cell phone usage. In the first study conducted in California, 151 at-risk teens were given cell phones that prompted them to complete a survey three times a day for a month. Participants logged whether or not they’d witnessed or experienced violence each day, fast food and soda consumption, fruit and vegetable consumption, and exercise. Additionally, the teens BMIs were recorded before and after the 30-day study.

In a second study done in North Carolina, subjects also reported feeling more exhausted on the days following exposure to violence. However, data gathered from devices worn by this sample group did not show any notable increase in junk food consumption on days of exposure to violence. Both groups actually reported an increase in physical activity on days of exposure, averaging 1000 more steps on these days than others.

A third study conducted for nearly 30 years in Flint, Michigan found that African-American teenage girls were particularly impacted by the correlation between obesity and violence. Exposure to violence in the teenage years is believed to be linked to the high obesity rates seen in black women in their 20s and 30s. Dr. Shervin Assari of the Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health at the University of Michigan said in 2016 that the anxiety of living in a high crime area contributes to poor eating habits, which may be an unconscious coping tactic.

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