On Campus

Student health declining

14 per cent of Ontario teens report being in poor physical health

Contemporary Ontario teens seem to feel they are in worse shape, health-wise, than their counterparts of nearly 20 years ago, a new report reveals. The latest iteration of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey found that 14 per cent of teens in Grades 7 to 12 reported in 2009 that they were in poor physical health, up from six per cent in 1991.

Problems reported included the fact that about a quarter of the nearly 250,000 students surveyed were overweight or obese (based on body mass index calculations), about 30 per cent reported experiencing depression and anxiety and 10 per cent said they spend at least seven hours a day in front of a TV and-or computer screen. “All these factors seem to be contributing to the overall poor health of our students,” observed Dr. Robert Mann, lead investigator on the study. “There is a definite connection between physical well-being and mental health. Students need to be encouraged to live healthy, balanced lifestyles and be monitored for unhealthy behaviours.”

Mann is a senior scientist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which conducts the survey. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey is the longest running school survey of adolescents in Canada. This year’s survey findings showed that about 34 per cent of the students had not seen a doctor in the past year, not even for an annual checkup.

Forty-three per cent of students engaged in gambling activities like playing cards, buying lottery tickets or betting in sports pools, although such behaviours among survey participants are actually down in recent years. Screen-time and video gaming issues raised some red flags. Twenty per cent of students report playing video games daily and 10 per cent of students reported symptoms associated with video gaming problems –preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal and disruption to family and school, a release on the survey findings stated.

“These trends in behaviour are concerning and should be monitored by schools and at home,” said Dr. Bruce Ballon, head of CAMH’s adolescent clinical and educational services for problem gambling, gaming and Internet use. “The fact that so may kids are engaging in this behaviour at such a young age can be an indicator for risk for problematic gambling and other harmful behaviour patterns as they get older.”

The Canadian Press