Teenagers with Unhealthy Lifestyles Age Faster: What Parents Should Know

by Lucy
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Unhealthy behaviors like poor diet, physical inactivity, and smoking are becoming more common and are putting young adults at risk for developing issues like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLOM), nearly two-thirds of all heart disease deaths worldwide are a result of unhealthy lifestyles.

While these things come later in life, these behaviors usually start and are taught to us in childhood and adolescence. If this is the case, then the responsibility is given to public health, parents, and pediatricians to intervene and fight for the tools and rules to prevent these things from happening.

teenage girl smoking | Julie Kislev from JulieK's Images via Canva.com
Photo credit: Julie Kislev from JulieK’s Images via Canva.com

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To identify the most promising prevention opportunities, we need to fully understand what behaviors young adults are participating in now and taking with them as they grow.

Here are some unhealthy behavior patterns that parents should monitor:

  • Poor overall diet quality
  • Not meeting national physical activity guidelines
  • Spending more than two hours a day on a screen
  • Eating fast food more than three times a week
  • Smoking cigarettes

Effects of Teenage Bad Habits on Aging

It is said that young people who smoke and participate in other unhealthy activities age faster biologically than their peers. According to research conducted by Kankaanpaa and colleagues to see if there was a correlation between smoking and aging in 824 young adult participants.

All participants were aged between 21 and 25 years and had completed surveys about their behaviors between the ages of 12, 14, and 17 years. Most were healthy and active but the researchers split them into two groups based on body mass index scores; one group was based on whether the individual was at a healthy weight for their height and body mass. The other group smoked regularly, binge drank, and did not exercise regularly.

After blood was taken, several algorithms and tests were taken to determine if there was an acceleration in aging and to establish any connections between aging and unhealthy habits.

After such testing, the algorithm concluded that the unhealthy group was, on average, 1.7 to 3.3 years older than the healthy group during their adolescence. This is equivalent to being 2 to 3 weeks faster each calendar year. These results varied depending on the type of testing but Kankaanpaa said, “Our study suggests that genetics may underlie the link between unhealthy behaviors and accelerated aging.”

“Previous studies in twins have shown that lifestyle and biological aging are commonly inherited,” Kankaanpää says. “Our study suggests that genetics may underlie the link between unhealthy behaviors and accelerated aging.” It’s also how to take a person’s word, as it’s more attractive to be an active, healthy person. A teenager might only want to be perceived in a good way, and what one person might classify as unhealthy, another might classify as healthy so the results might be a bit off.

While more studies are needed to get a definitive understanding of how exactly genetics can directly influence lifestyle habits and how these can speed up our aging processes. For example, genes can contribute to obesity, depression, and substance use. The same goes for the environment, as you might have children who started smoking at 14 because they are surrounded by parents who do or in a social circle where peer pressure comes into play.

“Learning more about the aging process and the role of genetics in it may help us identify individuals early in life who may be at risk of unhealthy behaviors during adolescence or who may be prone to faster aging and related diseases later in life,” concludes Elina Sillanpää, Associate Professor at the Gerontology Research Centre.

What Parents Should Do With This Information

Our current generation of teenagers will be at the highest risk for younger deaths and sickness if proper action is not taken. Action needs to be taken now to give our teenagers a better quality of life and prevent them from passing on these bad habits to the next generation. It’s easy to tell your teenager not to do something, but inevitably, if they have decided they are going to do something, they are likely going to find a way to do it, whether that’s drinking or smoking or something else.

However, you can do these things to make the most of a difficult situation.

Educate Them

It is easy to say don’t do this or don’t do that, but it might help your teen deter smoking and vaping if you give them all the tools to make their own decision. If you tell them what it does and why it’s so harmful, that might be enough to deter them from such things and help them make healthier decisions.

Also, introducing your teens to healthy activities such as yoga, sports, or making their own meals can have a positive impact.

Practice What You Preach

This comes from my experience at home. My sister got caught smoking by my dad, who was a heavy smoker and she was punished for it. But long story short, she’s now a heavy smoker. I truly believe that if you want your children to do something, then you should also abide by those rules.

A lot of research shows that children are a product of their own environment, so you really can’t blame your child for doing something that they see as an enjoyable and regular activity for their parents.

Provide Them With Alternatives

There are healthy alternatives. If your young adult has been smoking, it is a difficult situation, as telling them to quit can either go two ways they listen or they continue to do it anyway. But if you want to go with the flow and provide them with healthy alternatives, it is known that many people now use velo pods. You can either go down that angle or introduce prescription medicine, nicotine patches, or a holistic approach.

There are other things that you can control as well, such as their quality of diet, screen time, and being physically active.

Start a Hobby

Not only will this keep your teen active and healthy, but it is also the perfect opportunity to have some quality bonding time. This could be in the form of hiking, yoga classes or just simply attending the gym together. It’s a great way to get your teen into a healthy routine and will also help during puberty, where mental and physical health are very vulnerable.

Healthy Meals

As mentioned, a healthy diet is crucial for overall health, but that doesn’t mean your teen is on salads only. But mix it up, and there are healthier versions of everything nowadays. From pizzas to burgers, just making sure they are getting their vitamins and minerals is the best you can do.

Of course, there are moments where they get to indulge a bit. Just instill that this is simply a treat and should not be accepted as their daily diet.


  • Lucy

    I am Lucy, 24, and I am from Manchester. I graduated a couple of years ago with a degree in creative writing. When I'm not reading romance novels, I am usually watching true crime documentaries and listening to podcasts.

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