Short sleep duration is associated with increased obesity markers in European adolescents: effect of physical activity and dietary habits. The HELENA study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Oct;35(10):1308-17. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.149. Epub 2011 Jul 26.


Background: Adequate sleep is a critical factor for adolescent's health and health-related behaviors.

Objective: (a) to describe sleep duration in European adolescents from nine countries, (b) to assess the association of short sleep duration with excess adiposity and (c) to elucidate if physical activity (PA), sedentary behaviors and/or inadequate food habits underlie this association.

Design: A sample of 3311 adolescents (1748 girls) aged 12.5-17.49 years from 10 European cities in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden was assessed in the Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence Study between 2006 and 2008. We measured anthropometric data, sleep duration, PA (accelerometers and questionnaire), television watching and food habits (Food Frequency Questionnaire).

Results: Average duration of daily sleep was 8 h. Shorter sleepers showed higher values of BMI, body fat, waist and hip circumferences and fat mass index (P<0.05), particularly in females. Adolescents who slept <8 h per day were more sedentary, as assessed by accelerometry, and spent more time watching TV (P<0.05). The proportion of adolescents who eat adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables and fish was lower in shorter sleepers than in adolescents who slept ≥8 h per day, and so was the probability of having adequate food habits (P<0.05). Correlation analysis indicated that short sleep is associated with higher obesity parameters.

Conclusions: In European adolescents, short sleep duration is associated with higher adiposity markers, particularly in female adolescents. This association seems to be related to both sides of the energy balance equation due to a combination of increased food intake and more sedentary habits.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Eating
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Sex Factors
  • Sleep Deprivation / complications
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / metabolism*
  • Waist Circumference*


  • Biomarkers