Greater independence, less parent control, approaching puberty and changing demands in school. For a tween life can be both exciting and demanding - and presumably decisive for their future health. This is the starting point for a study designed to chart the living habits of children between the ages of 8 and 14 in Sweden and Europe, and where the University of Gothenburg, Sweden is one of the participants.
Boy and girls who are no longer children but who are not yet teenagers, so-called tweens, face many challenges. Greater independence and exposure to behaviours which lie outside the control of the family, approaching puberty and changing demands in school can make this an exciting but nonetheless demanding period both for the children themselves and for their families.
During this transitional period there is a risk that children may develop bad habits which can lead to poorer health later on in life. At the same time, increased individuality and autonomy may lead tweens to adopt healthy living habits more readily.
With this as a point of departure, fifteen groups of researchers from twelve countries have gathered to study those factors which cause European tweens to adopt healthy as opposed to unhealthy living habits.
The total of 16,000 children who are taking part in the project previously participated in the IDEFICS project which received considerable attention, a project in which researchers studied the diet and lifestyle associated with obesity among younger children.
In this new project, which is called I.Family, the researchers aim to follow up on children's eating habits and physical activity but also to chart how factors such as tastes, genetic markers, children's immediate environment and the influence of family and school may affect children's behaviour.
Children's living habits are influenced by group pressure, information obtained in school as well as marketing via TV, mobile phones, music and the Internet. Some companies turn their attention precisely to tweens as a group because they are starting to get their own money to spend, according to Gabriele Eiben, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and manager of the Swedish part of the project:
By gathering information on the current state of health among these children and comparing it with the comprehensive mapping that was done earlier, we will have unique opportunities to study which factors cause children to adopt a healthy as opposed to an unhealthy lifestyle.
The project's overriding goal is to develop advice and recommendations that decision makers may use in order to help families develop good healthy lifestyles.
Gabriele Eiben, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and project manager I.Family Sweden
Lauren Lissner, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
INFO about I.Family
The research project I.Family is financed by the European Commission and will run for a period of 5 years beginning in March 2012. Participating in the project are children from Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, Estonia, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.