Experts warn Australian adolescents are lining themselves up for serious chronic disease. 

Young Australians are exceeding screen time limits, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough and eating unhealthily, increasing their risks of developing chronic diseases in adulthood. 

Dr Katrina Champion from the University of Sydneyhas run a survey that asked Year 7 students to complete an online survey about their moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), sedentary recreational screen time, sleep duration, diet, and alcohol and tobacco use. 

A total of 6,640 students, aged 11 to 14 years, completed the survey.

“Most students reported several risk behaviours,” Dr Champion and colleagues report.

Almost two-thirds of respondents reported three or more risk behaviours, while over 25 per cent reported engaging in four or more.

“85.9 per cent exceeded recommended television and electronic device screen time limits [two hours/day]... 77.7 per cent were not sufficiently active [less than 60 minutes/day MVPA], and 61.3 per cent did not meet sleep guidelines [≤ 13 years: 9–11 hours/night; 14–17 years: 8–10 hours/night]” the report says. 

“Diet [self- reported sugar-sweetened beverage, fruit, vegetable, and discretionary food intake] was poor for 2,920 of 5,815 students [50.2 per cent].”

Dr Champion and colleagues also estimated the frequency of each risk behaviour by gender, remoteness, and relative socio-economic status, and the association of behaviours with socio-demographic characteristics was assessed.

“The prevalence of excessive recreational screen time, poor diet, alcohol use, and tobacco use was higher for boys than girls; that of insufficient MVPA was lower for boys,” they reported.

“Poor diet was more prevalent among children from major cities than those from regional areas. Tobacco use was less prevalent among those from higher socio-economic status areas.”

The authors acknowledged that students from higher socio-economic status areas or schools with Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage scores in the upper two quartiles, were over-represented in the sample, as were students from independent schools.

“Our findings highlight the need for preventive public health strategies targeting adolescent lifestyle factors that take gender, socio-economic status, and remoteness into account,” Dr Champion and colleagues concluded.

“Screening by general practitioners for the six major risk factors we have highlighted and identifying young people with multiple risk behaviours could facilitate early intervention, and brief interventions delivered in primary care or schools may be beneficial.”

The study is accessible here.