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Hate the Taste of Veggies? Getting More Sleep May Promote Healthy Food Choices

Update Date: Jun 21, 2013 01:49 PM EDT

If you hate eating your fruits and vegetables, you should think about getting more sleep. A new study reveals that well-rested teens tend to make more healthy food choices than their sleep-deprived peers.

Researchers said the finding presented at SLEEP 2013, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, may provide valuable insight into the link between sleep and obesity.

"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," lead researcher Lauren Hale, PhD, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said in a news release.

"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," she added.

Hale and her team looked at the association between sleep duration and food choices in a national representative sample of 13,284 teenagers in the second wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Participants in the study had an average age of 16 years.

The findings revealed that teenagers who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours a night were more likely to eat fast food two or more times a week.  These teens were also less likely to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

Researchers found that sleep duration had an independent effect on both healthy and unhealthy food choices even after accounting for factors like age, gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity and family structure.

"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," co-author Allison Kruger, MPH, a community health worker at Stony Brook University Hospital, said in a statement. "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."

Researchers said the findings suggest that promoting sleep may be a novel and effective way to improve obesity prevention and health interventions.

Hale said the next step is to explore whether the link between sleep duration and food choices is casual.

"If we determine that there is a causal link between chronic sleep and poor dietary choices, then we need to start thinking about how to more actively incorporate sleep hygiene education into obesity prevention and health promotion interventions," she concluded.

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