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IU Health & Wellness

Aug. 26, 2009

IU Health and Wellness discusses the following topics:

Serious weight concerns involving high school fall sports
Parents transferring attitudes about smoking to their kids


Football Kids

Photo by William Klos

Every football team has these players. Too frequently, teenagers pack on the pounds, sometimes weighing twice as much as they should, so they can play on their high school football teams even though it could mean a lifetime of obesity and related health conditions, such as diabetes. On the other end of the unhealthy weight spectrum, cross country runners often attempt to drop pounds so they can cut their times even though their already-lean bodies need calories for adolescent growth and good health. Fall sports can pose significant health challenges for teens, who might see their weight as key to their athletic success, said Douglas McKeag, M.D., director of the IU Center for Sports Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "Parents may have an adult perspective but kids think there isn't anything they can do to hurt their bodies -- they don't think into the future," said McKeag, OneAmerica Professor of Preventive Health and Family Medicine. "There's no easy answer. Parents have to be good counselors and say, 'This isn't worth it.'"

  • Football. McKeag described obesity as a "major problem" particularly for offensive and defensive lineman, where teams tend to select and even encourage overweight players. It's not uncommon, McKeag said, for athletes to be told in the spring that they need to gain 20 or 25 pounds if they want to play in the fall. Overeating, he said, is the most common way athletes gain this weight. "Overeating in any setting is unhealthy," McKeag said. "In an adolescent, it's doubly harmful because it sets up the body for what it will be like as an adult." Immediate problems can involve being more prone to injuries, particularly involving the joints. In the long run, obesity contributes to cardiovascular problems, diabetes and breathing disorders. "It's truly unhealthy," he said. "Everything from sudden death, to the long-lasting effects from diabetes, even how they view themselves in the future, it's all at stake here."
  • Cross country. Cross country runners tend to be lean to begin with, McKeag said. If they drop below their ideal weight, they likely are losing muscle, not fat, making it harder for the body to respond with speed. Being underweight can actually stunt a teenager's growth. "As an adolescent, you need energy to perform your sport and for growth," McKeag said. "If you deny yourself the food intake to lose weight, you don't supply yourself with the energy to run the sport and you don't have the energy for growth."
  • Strategic snacking. Athletes tend to lose weight throughout the season in the various fall sports, often as much as 20-30 pounds, "and that's a lot on a growing kid," McKeag said. Intense exercise, which can occur during afterschool practices, can suppress athletes' appetites so they do not eat as much as they should for dinner. On top of this, many teens skip breakfast, setting them up for a downward dietary spiral. McKeag said he encourages athletes to rearrange their food intake. "I suggest they always have something to eat wherever they are. They should try to have a densely packed calorie bar, shake, something they can get to during breaks at school. And I encourage them to eat breakfast. It doesn't matter what they eat, just that they eat, although complex carbohydrates are a good energy source."

McKeag said parents need to understand what their teens are experiencing, both the pressures of sport and a period of rapid growth. "High school sports can be really good for kids but they need to be in moderation," McKeag said. "Weight maintenance can be a very good measure."

McKeag can be reached at the IU Center for Sports Medicine at 317-278-0317 or at Top


Kids pick up on parents' attitudes toward smoking even when parents don't. Parents' implicit or unconscious attitudes about smoking are transferred to their children, say researchers at Indiana University and Arizona State University, and when these unconscious attitudes are more favorable toward smoking, the children are more likely to begin smoking. The researchers, who reported their findings in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology earlier this year, say this is the first study to document the intergenerational transmission of implicit attitudes and to report a prospective link between implicit attitudes and smoking initiation. The implicit attitudes of the adolescents predicted the onset of smoking 18 months later, above and beyond the smoking behavior of the parents, which could be modeled to the adolescents. "This study was focused more on the implicit attitudes, which might be transmitted in very subtle ways from parents to adolescents," said Jon Macy, project director of the IU Smoking Survey in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "Parents who explicitly say, 'Smoking is bad,' and especially a parent who smokes but says smoking is bad and kids shouldn't do it, might have positive implicit attitudes about smoking and these attitudes are being transmitted to their children in ways they might not be aware of."

Background about the study:

  • Participants were initially non-smoking adolescents 10 to 18 years old and their parents who participated in an 18-month longitudinal web-based study of families and smoking socialization. Families were recruited through adults participating in the IU Smoking Survey, a 29-year longitudinal study of the natural history of cigarette smoking. In the final models, there were 513 child-mother pairs and 427 child-father pairs.
  • The study is on the leading edge of social science research that attempts to examine and measure attitudes about issues, such as racial bias, gender prejudice, and substance abuse, where unconscious and conscious attitudes might differ for reasons of social or political correctness. In addition to answering more traditional survey questions, participants in the IU study completed a Web-based task involving pictures of cigarettes, shapes and words that were positive or negative. Their reaction times were recorded to measure these automatic associations, or implicit attitudes.

Ultimately, said Macy, researchers want to find effective ways to change attitudes toward smoking, which includes making implicit attitudes more negative. Their research points to two places for possible change -- first with the parents' attitudes before they're transmitted to their children, and secondly with teenagers, before they begin smoking.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Co-authors include Steven J. Sherman, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences; Dong-Chul Seo, Department of Applied Health Science in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation; and Laurie Chassin and Clark Presson, ASU Department of Psychology.

Macy can be reached at 812-856-0840 and For a copy of the study, contact for additional assistance, contact Tracy James, 812-855-0084 or Top

Journal citation: "The intergenerational transmission of implicit and explicit attitudes toward smoking: Predicting adolescent smoking initiation," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2009) 313-319.