The epidemiology of obesity among U.S. adolescents and the association with adequate sleep




Shah, Jil
Thompson, Erika


0000-0001-7806-6198 (Shah, Jil)

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Purpose: Childhood obesity, a leading risk factor for chronic illnesses and deaths, is a major public health concern. Increasing evidence suggests that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on metabolism and results in increased fatigue and hunger. Short sleep duration is considered a potential risk for overweight/obesity in childhood and adolescence. This study aims to understand the descriptive epidemiology of childhood obesity in the U.S. and explore the association between sleep and obesity. Methods: The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 2019 (n=13,677), which is a cross-sectional survey among high school students grades 9 through 12 in the U.S., was used to assess the prevalence of obesity and correlates. Obesity was measured from self-reported height and weight, considering the participants' age and sex. Additional stratification by demographic variables (sex, race/ethnicity, grade, sexual orientation), and sleep duration was conducted, and these associations were analyzed using t-test results from the YRBS Analysis Tool with a 0.05 level of significance. Results: Sixteen percent of high-school students in the U.S. (2019) reported being obese and the trend is continually increasing from 2009 to 2019. Some populations were significantly more likely to be obese than others, namely, males as compared to females (p-value< 0.01), American Indian/Alaskan Native as compared to Asians (p-value=0.01), bisexuals as compared to heterosexuals (p-value< 0.01), and those who did not get 8 hours or more of sleep as compared to those who did get 8 hours or more of sleep (p-value=0.02). Conclusion: There is a health disparity in childhood obesity prevalence by sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Inadequate sleep is a significant factor associated with obesity. Further research is warranted to establish causality between sleep and obesity. Understanding contributors to obesity among subpopulations of adolescents could contribute to targeted interventions focusing on vulnerable populations, which could help lower the prevalence of childhood obesity, its persistence into adulthood, and comorbidities.