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First comprehensive study into the health of Europe’s teens reveals concerning trends

After three years of work, the EU funded research programme HELENA has revealed its initial results. It concludes that amongst European adolescents, approximately 27% of males and 20% of females are either overweight or obese. It also reveals for the first time at European level, food intake and physical activity patterns for adolescents.
The importance of understanding teenage health
The Helena Study was conceived to understand and effectively enhance nutritional and lifestyle habits of 13 to 17 year old adolescents in Europe because healthy (or unhealthy) life-long habits find their routes during this crucial period in life and the number of overweight or obese children in the EU is rising by about 400 000 each year.

On the announcement of the HELENA findings at an International Symposium in Granada, Spain, Project Coordinator Professor Luis Moreno explains ”The HELENA Study provides us with the most complete picture ever gathered in Europe about the nutritional status and behaviour as well as the fitness and physical activity patterns of 3000 adolescents from 13 to 17 years old. It is the first time we will have a reliable picture of the situation, analysed using a common methodology across the ten EU countries*. This information will enable us to develop effective recommendations for the future.”

*The ten countries involved in the study: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Food consumption patterns
One of the most startling findings was the diet composition of adolescents across Europe. To exemplify, only 13% and 16% of teens respectively eat at least 200g of vegetables and at least two pieces of fruit each day. By comparison, 50% of adolescents had fat intakes higher than 35% of total energy intake.
Creation of important health indicators
There is a lot of scientific data available on obesity prevalence, however this is not the only chronic disease likely to burden today’s adolescents in the future. To gain a greater understanding of general health, the HELENA Study has created benchmark indicators for the precursors of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and cardio and cerebro vascular diseases. These data will be extremely valuable to public health experts as they chart the evolution of chronic diseases across Europe in the future.
The gender difference
The proportion of teens accumulating 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day was 58% in boys and only 31 % in girls. However girls scored better when their nutritional knowledge was tested answering 62% of the answers correctly.
Preventative measures & intervention studies
The 3 year research programme did not only look at current health status, it also studied the impact of intervention studies designed to promote moderate to vigorous physical activity and healthy eating. Both of these 3-month computer-based interventions had some positive effects in increasing healthy eating (in particular, water, fibre and vegetable consumption) as well as physical activity behaviours.
Collaboration with European Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises
In an effort to find healthy alternatives to popular teen snack foods, a cereal based snack bar, a low fat hamburger and a wholegrain cereal drink were developed and tested. The results will be shared with the food industry as the popularity of the snack bar and hamburger will likely lead to commercial success.

For more information about the HELENA Study, please consult:

Laura Smillie | alfa
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