SCOTTISH teens who want to go to university brush their teeth more, eat fewer crisps and have less sex.
A new study by St. Andrew’s University has revealed that teen pupils from poorer backgrounds who are encouraged to attend uni make healthier decisions.
Pupils who are made to think about their education in the long term eat more fruit and vegetables, exercise and brush their teeth more, and are more likely to shun tobacco, cannabis, sex, fighting, crisps and soft drinks.
The findings of the study – funded by NHS Scotland – were made after interviewing 1,834 S4 students from poorer backgrounds across 1,834 Scottish secondary schools.
It found that the students planning to go to university were twice as likely to eat fruit and vegetables daily when compared with their less aspirational peers.
They were also ten per cent more likely to get two hours of exercise a week, and eight per cent more likely to brush their teeth twice a day.
Meanwhile, on the scale of teenage vice, those with university plans were five per cent less likely to eat crisps daily and 19 per cent less likely to drink sugary drinks every day.
They were also half as likely to consume alcohol weekly, ten per cent less likely to have smoked and 16 percent less likely to have tried cannabis.
Meanwhile, 14 percent fewer have ever been in a fight, and 19 per cent fewer of the 15 year olds hoping to go on to uni had ever had sex.
The study concluded: “Anticipating university attendance may maintain long-term health by instilling optimism and a sense of control over one’s destiny.
It adds that “encouraging adolescents to consider an academic future may achieve public health benefits, despite social factors that might otherwise precipitate poor health.”
Lead Researcher Ross Whitehead said that the study confirms that scare tactics and one-off lessons on the vices of teenage years are less effective than raising pupils’ long term ambitions.
He said: “I’m fairly frustrated at the current intervention approaches – there’s often one intervention for each individual behaviour, which is not particularly cost-effective.
“I think adults and adolescents alike are kind of habituated to those messages.
“Instead of focusing on individual health behaviours, it makes sense to take a step back and focus on [longer-term] life outcomes first.
“Even if you current situation isn’t perhaps the rosiest, if you have this long-term plan, something to work towards, it’s going to benefit you in a wide range of ways in terms of your health behaviour.”
The research findings have been embraced by Elaine Wyllie – a retired Stirling headteacher who now campaigns for children’s health.
Speaking about the results of the research, she said: “You can kind of feel that would be right – there’s hope there, there’s aspiration, there’s expectation, there’s a sense of purpose, there’s postponement of gratification.
“It makes complete sense. When children have chaos and hopelessness, it’s so hard for them.
“What we need to do is give them that sense of purpose. Believing in every child, that they all matter and can achieve, that’s a very powerful message.”