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Sleeplessness Increases Risk of Obesity for Teens

Update Date: Aug 20, 2014 11:43 AM EDT

Sleep deprivation has been linked to causing fatigue, cognitive impairment and poor concentration. Since sleep revitalizes the body and mind, it is vital that people get the recommended eight to nine hours per day. In a new study, researchers examined the link between getting too little sleep and body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of obesity. The team discovered that sleeplessness in teens could increase their risk of obesity.

For this study, the team from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health analyzed medical data on more than 10,000 Americans between the ages of 16 and 21. They were a part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which collected information on their height, weight and sleeping patterns from 1995 to 2001.

The researchers found that nearly 20 percent of the 16-year-old participants reported sleeping less than six hours per day. This group of teens was 20 percent more likely to be obese by the time they turned 21 in comparison to fellow teens who reported sleeping more than eight hours per night. The team stated that even though a lack of exercise and time spent in front of a television can contribute to obesity, they did not factor into this relationship.

"Lack of sleep in your teenage years can stack the deck against you for obesity later in life. Once you're an obese adult, it is much harder to lose weight and keep it off. And the longer you are obese, the greater your risk for health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer," Shakira F. Suglia, ScD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School, said according to the press release. "The message for parents is to make sure their teenagers get more than eight hours a night. A good night's sleep does more than help them stay alert in school. It helps them grow into healthy adults."

Sleep deprivation can contribute to obesity because it causes daytime fatigue, which can affect what people choose to eat. For example, people who are more tired are more likely to pick food options that are fast and simple, such as fast food, as opposed to making a healthier meal. The researchers noted that they did not collect data on what the teens ate.

The study, "Sleep Duration and Obesity among Adolescents Transitioning to Adulthood: Do Results Differ by Sex?" was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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