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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995 Dec;27(12):1639-45.

Physical activity and the initiation of high-risk health behaviors in adolescents.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


The association of physical activity to the initiation of health risk behaviors was examined in a 3-yr prospective study of a population-based cohort of 1245 adolescents aged 12-16 yr. Four hundred thirty-seven students (35% of the cohort) were identified at baseline via self-report survey as never having smoked cigarettes, consumed alcohol, used marijuana, or carried a weapon. Three measures of physical activity were obtained at baseline: leisure-time physical activity (LTPA), level of aerobic fitness (AF), and participation in competitive athletics. Significant associations, with notable gender differences, were observed between physical activity and the initiation of cigarette smoking and alcohol use. The cumulative proportion of male students initiating alcohol use was 48%, 42%, and 24% for high, moderate, and low LTPA, respectively (P < 0.01). Males who participated in competitive athletics were significantly more likely than nonathletes to initiate alcohol use (44% vs 17%, P < 0.01). The cumulative proportion of female students initiating cigarette use was 10%, 23%, and 22% for high, moderate, and low LTPA, respectively (P < 0.05) and 7%, 28%, and 16% for high, moderate, and low AF, respectively (P < 0.05). No association was found between physical activity and weapon carrying. These results indicate that in this cohort of adolescents, the most active or most fit females were less likely to initiate cigarette smoking. In contrast, the most active males or males who participated in competitive athletics appeared more at-risk for initiating alcohol consumption than their less active counterparts.

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