Mental Health Issues During Adolescence Could Lead to Future Unhealthy Behaviors

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Latinx teens suffering with mental health issues are at risk of developing cardiovascular conditions in their future.

Mental health issues were reported to be a leading factor in developing sleep problems, unhealthy weight gain, and sedentary behavior among Latinx high school students.

Caring parent comforting his despondent teenage daughter - Image credit: Svitlana | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Svitlana | stock.adobe.com

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the mental health concerns included anxiety and depression that began as early as 13 years of age. Children that experienced these challenges were at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases when they reached young adulthood, according to the findings.

The study was led by researchers from George Washington University, who found the connection between mental health issues and future progression of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The press release noted that according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Latinx high school-aged youth are “50% more likely to be obese compared to White youth and are at much higher risk of developing diabetes.”

The researchers used data that included 547 Latinx middle school students from suburban Atlanta, most of whom were US citizens. At the start of the study, the students averaged 13 years of age and turned 17 years old during the most recent survey.

The press release noted that the survey included questions regarding the student’s diet, sleep patterns, and physical activity. The participants were also instructed to provide details regarding their mental health symptoms—specifically depression and anxiety.

“Our study suggests signs of depression or anxiety in Latinx kids can set up a cycle that leads to weight gain, an unhealthy diet, and inactivity by the high school years,” Kathleen M. Roche, professor of prevention and community health at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in a press release. “If such problems are not addressed early on, they can set the stage for adult diseases like heart disease and stroke.”

The reported risk factors presented within 4 years of the onset of mental health issues, according to the investigators.

Previous studies have found that Latinx children that faced deportation or detainment of a family member had a higher risk of reporting suicidal thoughts, early alcohol use, and risky behavior. Other increased risks of anxiety and depression stemmed from Latinx children taking on childcare responsibilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Roche said in the press release that prompting mental health treatment could help teens limit overeating and become involved in sports and other physical activities.

“Just telling a kid to get out and move probably isn’t going to motivate a teen who is sad or distressed,” Roche said in the press release. “Depression and anxiety make it much harder to get off the couch and move.”

The researchers believe that their findings illustrate the need for more health and social services to help Latinx teens faced with mental health issues, to better their future health.

Roche said that parents, teachers, and health professionals should monitor and recognize symptoms of mental health issues and set in motion a plan to maintain physical health.

Reference

Mental health issues in Latinx middle schoolers may increase risk of sleep problems, obesity and unhealthy behaviors. EurekAlert!. News release. October 10, 2023. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1003788.

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