Sleep deprivation in teens linked to poor diet choices

By Enozia Vakil , Jun 23, 2013 12:33 PM EDT

Based on the data from 13,284 interviews with adolescents from around the world, researchers from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine have now linked sleep deprivation in teens to making unhealthy food choices.

While sleep deprivation has already been associated with many health problems, its straight link to unhealthy food choices could prove to be enlightening.

"Not only do sleepy teens on average eat more food that's bad for them, they also eat less food that is good for them," Lauren Hale, associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook, explained. "While we already know that sleep duration is associated with a range of health consequences, this study speaks to some of the mechanisms, i.e., nutrition and decision making, through which health outcomes are affected." 

After analyzing the survey, the researchers found that teens who had lesser than seven hours of sleep (around 18 percent of those interviewed), tended to consume fast food more than 2 times a week, and had lesser servings of fruits and vegetables, independent of their physical activity, age, gender, ethnicity, family structure and socio-economic status.

The teens who were interviewed were then divided into 3 groups- short sleepers having less than 7 hours of sleep, mid-range sleepers having 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and recommended sleepers, who received more than the optimum 8 hours of sleep every day.

"We are interested in the association between sleep duration and food choices in teenagers because adolescence is a critical developmental period between childhood and adulthood," Allison Kruger, a community health worker at Stony Brook and the first author of the study, added. "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." 

Next, the researchers aim to explore whether this association between sleep hours and junk food consumption is just casual.

This study was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 

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