Youth Healthy Behaviors and Violence

This article examines the relationship between the big three healthy lifestyle behaviors of physical activity, nutrition and specifically breakfast eating, and sleep with violence indicators among US high school students.  In addition, published research examining these associations were examined. 

Using the Youth Online YRBS data analysis tool (CDC, 2019) for all high school students in the country, cross-tabs were run comparing each of the big-three healthy behaviors (one-hour physical activity, eating breakfast, eight-hours of sleep per day: yes/no) against various violence measures (yes/no): https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx 

Youth who ate breakfast every day and got eight or more hours of sleep a night were significantly less likely to carry a weapon, be threatened or injured on school property, electronically bullied, bullied at school, missed school due to feeling unsafe, forced to have sexual intercourse, experienced sexual violence, and experienced physical dating violence compared to youth not eating breakfast and not getting eight or more hours of sleep regularly (p’s=.0000-.02). 

In addition, youth getting plenty of sleep were less likely to carry a gun (p=.03) and youth eating breakfast every more morning were less likely to get into a physical fight (p=.006). 

While youth who got one or more hours of physical every day were significantly less likely to get electronically bullied (p=.01), physically active youth were more likely to carry a weapon (p=.0000), carry a gun (p=.01) and get into a physical fight than less active youth (p=.0000). 

Published research supporting youth breakfast and violence associations showed that infrequent and/or frequent breakfast skipping was associated with a broad range of health compromising behaviors including getting into a physical fight among college students from 28 countries (https://www.dovepress.com/skipping-breakfast-and-its-association-with-health-risk-behaviour-and--peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-DMSO), and a dose–response relationship was found between experiencing both school and cyber bullying victimization and breakfast skipping behavior among youth (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S019566631500029X). 

A review of research supporting a youth sleep and violence behavior relationship showed that insufficient sleep was associated with greater odds of risk taking including violent/delinquency behavior among adolescents (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1087079217302071). 

Lastly, a review of research on youth physical activity and violence found an association between youth populations and sport contexts and that other mechanisms and factors (e.g., social environment, social agents, performance/winning) influence the onset of and/or adherence to aggression and violent behavior among youth (https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/714421). 

Based on the above YRBS data analyses and supporting published research, the following conclusions are provided: 

  1. Healthy behaviors, particularly eating regular breakfasts and getting eight or more hours sleep most nights, are linked to less violence, whereas getting an hour of physical activity every day was associated with greater weapon carrying and physical fighting.
  2. Prevention, health and fitness professionals, parents and others working with youth should promote breakfast eating, sleep and regular physical activity for their physical and mental health benefits and at the same time target youth sports for inclusion of prevention programs to reduce aggression.

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