Teenagers who regularly have headaches may find that their problem is linked to overweight, smoking and/or lack of physical exercise, according to an article published in the medical journal Neurology.

The authors found that teenagers with all three factors - those who were overweight, smoked and did very little exercise - were 3.4 more likely to suffer from recurring headaches, compared to individuals of their age who did not smoke, were physically active and were not overweight.

To recap, the three negative lifestyle factors were:
  • being overweight
  • being a regular smoker
  • not doing enough physical exercise (less than twice a week)
The study revealed that of the teens with all three negative lifestyle factors, 55% had frequent headaches. 25% of those with none of the negative lifestyle factors had recurring headaches.

Teenagers with two negative factors were 1.8 times more likely to have recurring headaches, the authors reported.

The study also found that:
  • Teenagers who were overweight were 40% more likely to have recurring headaches than their peers with no negative factors.
  • Teenagers who regularly smoked were 50% more likely to have recurring headaches than their peers with no negative factors.
  • Teenagers who exercised less than twice a week were 20% more likely to have recurring headaches than their peers with no negative factors.
Andrew D. Hershey, MD, PhD, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said:

These lifestyle factors have rarely been studied in teens. This study is a vital step toward a better understanding of lifestyle factors and potential preventive measures that can be taken.

The Norwegian investigators examined details from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, involving 5,847 students aged 13 to 18 years in Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. The teenagers were interviewed by nurses about headaches - their heights and weights were also taken. They were asked to complete a questionnaire which asked them about physical activity and smoking. 36% of the females and 21% of the males in the group reported having frequent headaches over the previous 12 months.

16% of the teenagers were overweight, 19% smoked and 31% did exercise less than twice per week.

According to study author John-Anker Zwart, MD, PhD, University of Oslo, treatment and prevention of headaches in teenagers should perhaps include management of healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular physical activity, good diet, and cessation of smoking.

The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study is a collaboration of HUNT Research Centre, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Nord-Trøndelag County Council.

Source: The American Academy of Neurology.

"An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents. The HUNT Study"
L. Robberstad Stud.med, G. Dyb MD, PhD, K. Hagen MD, PhD, L. J. Stovner MD, PhD, T. L. Holmen MD, PhD, and J. -A. Zwart MD, PhD
Neurology 2010, doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181eee244

Written by Christian Nordqvist