Leaving school and getting a job both lead to a drop in the amount of physical activity, while becoming a mother is linked to increased weight gain, conclude two reviews published today and led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Many people tend to put on weight as they leave adolescence and move into adulthood, and this is the age when the levels of obesity increase the fastest. This weight gain is related to changes in diet and physical activity behavior across the life events of early adulthood, including the move from school to further education and employment, starting new relationships and having children.
Writing in Obesity Reviews , researchers from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at Cambridge looked at changes in physical activity, diet and body weight as young adults move from education into employment and to becoming a parent. To do this, they carried out systematic reviews and meta-analyses of existing scientific literature - these approaches allow them to compare and consolidate results from a number of often-contradictory studies to reach more robust conclusions. Leaving school
In the first of the two studies, the team looked at the evidence relating to the transition from high school into higher education or employment and how this affects body weight, diet and physical activity. In total, they found 19 studies covering ages 15-35 years, of which 17 assessed changes in physical activity, three body weight, and five diet or eating behaviors.
The team found that leaving high school was associated with a decrease of seven minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The decrease was larger for males than it was for females (a decrease of 16.4 minutes per day for men compared to 6.7 minutes per day for women). More detailed analysis revealed that the change is largest when people go to university, with overall levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity falling by 11.4 minutes per day.
Three studies reported increases in body weight on leaving high school, though there were not enough studies to provide a mean weight increase. Two studies suggested that diets decrease in quality on leaving high school and one suggested the same on leaving university.
Children have a relatively protected environment, with healthy food and exercise encouraged within schools, but this evidence suggests that the pressures of university, employment and childcare drive changes in behaviour which are likely to be bad for long-term health.
This is a really important time when people are forming healthy or unhealthy habits that will continue through adult life. If we can pinpoint the factors in our adult lives which are driving unhealthy behaviors, we can then work to change them." Dr. Eleanor Winpenny from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge Becoming a parent
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