First, the good news: American teens smoke less than their peers in other countries and watch fewer hours of television every day. In a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) called "Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children," 12 percent of 15-year-olds in the United States say they smoke daily, making the nation 24th out of the 28 countries surveyed (Greenland led the pack, with half of its 15-year-olds lighting up daily). Roughly 25 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds stare at the boob tube for four hours or more a day, less than in many nations.
The news isn't all good, though. The WHO report, which polled 120,000 students in 26 European countries, the United States, and Canada, also finds that American adolescents are less likely to exercise frequently and to maintain a good diet. "Our kids are more likely to eat french fries, drink soda, and eat candy bars," says Dr. Mary Overpeck, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a researcher on the WHO study.
Roughly 68 percent of 13-year-olds polled in the United States drink soda every day, while 59 percent chug a glass of low-fat milk daily.
The survey also investigated students' attitudes about school and their classmates. Among 13-year-olds, kids in Greece feel the most pressure from their parents to do well at school (71 percent of girls, 76 percent of boys), followed by children in Portugal and Israel. The United States ranks in the middle, with 40 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls feeling the heat. Mom and dad may not be on their backs, but compared to kids in other countries, 13-year-olds in America stress out the most about school work. One in four girls and one in five boys feel very stressed by the demands of school.
American kids aren't getting much comfort from their peers, either. Among 13-year-olds, just 39 percent of girls and 34 percent of boys say their classmates are often kind or helpful. On this measure, the United States ranks in the bottom three of the countries surveyed, with Lithuania and the Czech Republic. Portugal scores the highest in congeniality, with 87 percent of 13-year-olds saying their classmates are friendly.
In all of the countries surveyed, adolescent boys turn to alcohol more than girls. Roughly 23 percent of 15-year-old boys in the United States report drinking at least weekly, compared to 15 percent of girls. Alcohol consumption is highest for 15-year-old boys in Wales (53 percent), Greece (52 percent), and England (47 percent).
For a free copy of the WHO study, visit www.ruhbc.ed.ac.uk/hbsc.