Teenagers are never far from their parents’ minds as they navigate the minefield that is adolescence. Studying and exams add more fuel to the fire, with parents often fearing their teenagers are not taking care of themselves enough to be at their best.
Food is a common theme here and often a point of disagreement; junk food seems the choice of the day despite parents’ disapproval. Being healthy just doesn’t seem to have enough of the fun factor for many teenagers.
More young people are becoming increasingly overweight today through poor lifestyle and food habits, so we need to understand how we can inspire more young people to eat healthier foods.
Adolescence is a critical developmental period where dietary and lifestyle habits are formed – habits that will have a lasting effect as they influence future behaviour.
A recent study by Lauren Hale, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, may have found a solution to how we can best influence our teenagers – and it has nothing to do with food.
The study makes a strong connection between obesity and sleep. Researchers examined the association between sleep duration and food choices in a representative sample of 13,284 teenagers with a mean age of 16. The statistics showed that those teenagers who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours per night were more likely to consume fast food two or more times per week and were less likely to eat healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.
The study did take into account other factors that may affect these choices – such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical activity and family structure – but found that the amount of sleep a teenager had on average per night had an independent affect on both healthy and unhealthy food choices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that teenagers should be sleeping between nine and 10 hours every night. Its study featured three groups: short sleepers of less than seven hours, mid-range sleepers of seven to eight hours per night and the recommended sleepers, who received more than eight hours of sleep per night. Those in the short-sleepers category, approximately 18 per cent of the sample, made the most unhealthy food choices on a regular basis.
The study concludes that addressing sleep deficiency may be an effective, albeit novel, way to address obesity and promote healthy eating and lifestyle.
Laura Holland is a well-being consultant and nutritional therapist. For more information, go to www.beutifulyou.co.uk
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