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Sleep-Deprived Teens Make Poor Dietary Choices


Those who sleep more also have healthier food habits, which may affect long-term health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Sleep-deprived teenagers make poor dietary choices, while their well-rested peers tend to choose more healthful foods, according to the first US-based, nationally representative study to explore whether food choices vary by sleep duration during adolescence.

“Not only does getting enough sleep (more than 8 hours per night for teenagers) help with school performance and cognitive function, we now have evidence suggesting that teenagers who sleep more also have healthier food habits, which may affect long-term health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” Lauren Hale, PhD, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, New York, told ConsultantLive.

Dr Hale and colleagues examined the association between sleep duration and food choices in a nationally representative sample of more than 13,000 teenagers in the second wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data were collected in 1996 when the mean age of the study participants was 16 years.

In the study, the teens who reported sleeping fewer than 7 hours per night (18% of the respondents) were 25% more likely to consume fast food 2 or more times per week and 20% less likely to eat healthful foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Short sleep duration had an independent effect on both healthy and unhealthy food choices. The results took into account such factors as age, sex, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity, and family structure.

“The previous literature shows strong associations between sleep and a range of health outcomes, including obesity,” said Dr Hale. “However, the mechanisms through which sleep is associated with obesity are not well understood.”

One proposed mechanism is that food choices play a role, possibly because of changes in both appetite and decision making that may result from inadequate sleep.

“Teenagers have a fair amount of control over their food and sleep, and the habits they form in adolescence can strongly impact their habits as adults,” Dr Hale said. Research has shown that both the sleep and eating habits developed in childhood and adolescence have a large impact on adulthood. “Teenagers with unhealthy habits are more likely to continue those unhealthy habits as adults,” she said. A study of longitudinal changes in food habits between adolescence and adulthood found that adolescent food intake is significantly associated with food intake in adulthood.

“Overall, diet tends to become healthier from adolescence into adulthood, but adolescents with unhealthy food intake still have less healthy food intake as adults, as compared with those who had healthier habits in adolescence,” said Dr Hale. Research also shows that adolescents who regularly sleep less are more likely to be overweight and obese as adults.

“Too often, sleep is underappreciated as part of a healthy lifestyle,” Dr Hale said. “Primary care physicians need to remember to counsel patients on sleep when they are discussing obesity prevention. I would stress the importance of counseling teenage patients about their sleep and encouraging them, with the help of their parents, to find ways to improve their sleep.”

The researchers presented their results (abstract #0294) at SLEEP 2013, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in Baltimore. The study was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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