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(Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail)
(Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail)

Stress and satisfaction

Teenage boys the happiest Canadians Add to ...

Want to know the secret to a happy life? Just ask a teenage boy.

But steer clear of the girls.

Teenage boys are the happiest and among the least-stressed out people in Canada, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

More than 95 per cent of boys aged 12-19 said they were satisfied with life, the highest number of any age category and higher than the overall average of 91 per cent, in a survey that asks Canadians to rank various aspects of their health. Boys aged 15-19 also had one of the lowest reported levels of stress in the country, second only to those aged 65 and over.

But their female classmates don't seem to have the same attitude. About 20 per cent of girls aged 15-19 said most days were somewhat or extremely stressful. While it wasn't the highest stress level reported by any age group, the discrepancy between stress levels of teenage boys and girls was the largest of any age group.

Over all, Canadians in their prime working years - 35 to 54 years old - had the highest reported rates of stress than any other age group, the report said.

On average, nearly 30 per cent of men and women in that age group said they felt stressed out. Even as they get older, however, women report experiencing stress at a higher rate than men, a trend that continues until age 55, when the gender disparity largely disappears.

Statscan didn't explore factors that may explain why some people - particularly young boys - are more satisfied and generally more carefree in life than others.

Adolescent girls are often associated with anxiety over social status and their personal relationships, which may help to explain why they report higher levels of stress than boys, said Kelly Dean Schwartz, associate professor of applied psychology at the University of Calgary.

For females, relationships "consume more emotional energy" than they do for boys, Dr. Schwartz said. He added that females are also more likely to be open about their emotions and how they're feeling.

"We condition our males to keep it in," said Dr. Schwartz, who is also director of the university's applied psychological and educational services.

But, he cautioned, that's only a partial explanation. A major reason girls may report experiencing more stress than their male peers is that they're simply more aware of it, according to Dr. Schwartz.

"Females at this stage of their development are more emotionally attuned than males when you ask them questions about stressful circumstances," he said.

In addition to stress and overall life satisfaction, the report also examined a variety of factors affecting health. The report found that about one in five Canadians aged 12 and older smoke, and that one-quarter of men and 10 per cent of women drink heavily.

More than half of Canadian adults reported themselves as being overweight, the survey found.

The number of obese Canadians also rose to 17 per cent in 2008 from 15 per cent in 2003.

Analysts believe the number of overweight and obese Canadians may be levelling out, said Vincent Dale, assistant director in the health statistic division of Statscan. However, there's evidence that suggests high numbers of Canadians may lowball their weight, meaning obesity levels across the country may be much higher than they appear.

The Statscan report is based on data collected from Canadians about various factors, including how satisfied they are with life, how much they smoke and drink, and how much they weigh.

But when it came to height and weight, researchers also picked a small group of respondents and physically measured them to see how that matches up to their survey responses. They found that when they measured respondents, obesity levels rose to 25 per cent.

It's "the big question mark that hangs over all of this" and is a factor health officials and policy makers should keep in mind, Mr. Dale said.

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