Teens aren’t historically known for thinking about their health and wellness on a regular basis. Instead, they’re thought to have passion for video games, binge watching TV, and eating junk food. While it’s true that they still are more likely than the average person to consume food and drinks that are nutritionally bankrupt—mostly because they can get away with it more readily than adults—they are also cognizant of how their behaviors and choices now affect their wellness both now and in the future.
They’ve learned to take their wellness seriously from an early age. The furor around children’s health came to the fore while they were in their adolescence, still forming their habits around eating and exercise. During this time, schools also put a greater focus on nutrition and fitness. The end result is that teens today find themselves at the start of the post-childhood obesity generation; they’re a cohort that considers their health every day.
In fact, many teens are making wellness a priority: 47% of teens have become more focused on their health in the past year, compared to 35% of Millennials, according to our research. They’re also more likely than their older counterparts to say that their physical wellness is very important to them (72% vs. 62%). This aligns with our observations as well.
On a recent subway ride in New York, two high school students were discussing the importance of a gym membership to maintain their fitness, with one going so far as to say he would be paying for his membership out of his own pocket because his parents didn't want to cover the cost. During a focus group, a 15 year old from Las Vegas noted that he had just sold his video game system--he was concerned because he’d begun to gain weight because he was playing games instead of being active. He ultimately decided he’d rather go without the system than compromise his health. These thought processes are becoming increasingly prevalent among teens across the country.
Teens are also reflecting a new approach to health, which is about feeling good rather than about being skinny. Teens are trying detox diets, making an effort to bike or walk places, and seeking out superfoods. While they indulge on occasion, wellness is often in the back of their minds, and they try to offset their unhealthy behavior with extra exercise, for example. They still participate in fad diets, but not the sort that has them losing 30 pounds in 30 days.
Instead they’re going gluten free, cutting refined sugar from their diet, or trying cleanses that are designed to reset their gastrointestinal systems. It’s not only teen girls who are dieting these days; teen boys are just as aware of their wellness and physical health. A mom of a teen boy told me that she was baffled when her son told her that he wasn’t eating refined sugar anymore, and she was even more surprised when he explained that his whole group of friends was doing the same diet together.
Another reason teens are more health conscious than generations that went before them is because they’re able to track their wellness with myriad digital devices and services. From Fitbits to iPhones to MyFitnessPal, they’re able to keep tabs on their exercise and their nutritional intake, and they can track it over time to see how these factors affect how they feel and their overall mood. Through these services, they’re also learning what’s actually healthy and what isn’t—for example certain protein bars or fruit juices, which often turn out not to be as good for them as they might have assumed.
This is new territory for brands and marketers seeking to target teens. They will always enjoy junk food and sodas, but they also want to take care of their bodies now knowing that learning good health habits now will be critical for their wellness in the long run. Companies have already caught on to the need to offer healthy alternatives when it comes to food and beverage selection, but teens’ penchant for wellness is ever-present in their lives.
It affects what they eat, of course, but also what they wear, where and how they like to hang out, their choice of transportation, and more. Brands from all categories can earn teens’ attention and approval by supporting and reflecting their desire to be healthy representatives of the post-childhood obesity generation.