Healthy Habits Among Adolescents: Sleep, Exercise, Diet, and Body Image

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Kathleen Mullan Harris, University of North Carolina, Rosalind Berkowitz King, NICHD and Penny Gordon-Larsen, University of North Carolina

Healthy habits among children lay the groundwork for positive youth development (Danner 2000; Ge et al. 2001; Martinek et al. 1978; Siegel et al. 1999; Grant et al. 1999; USDHHS 1996a). Most fundamental to the developing child are health habits involving sleep, diet, and exercise. This paper reviews the literature on diet, sleep and physical activity among adolescents, and explores available indicators of these health habits using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).

We focus on adolescents because this is the life stage when youth begin to exercise their independence from parental control and monitoring and when parents begin to grant children more autonomy to make their own decisions and judgements about what they eat, how long they sleep, and in what forms and level of intensity they engage in physical activity. Adolescence also marks the stage of rapid physical development when notions of an ideal body image become especially salient in young people’s lives as they develop self-conceptions of their own body image. With unique data from Add Health we explore body image indicators which can be both a consequence and a cause of healthy habits involving diet and exercise during adolescence. Finally, adolescence is the life stage when individuals begin to formulate their healthy habits, setting patterns that continue into adulthood (Andrade et al. 1993; Must et al. 1992; NIH 1987; Ross and Hayes, 1988; Serdula et al. 1993).