Dr Natalie Pearson, a Senior Research Associate in Physical Activity and Public Health in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS), hopes her findings published in a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics will encourage strategy and policymakers to develop recommendations for adolescents that look at multiple health behaviours together rather than individually.
The study, which was conducted in collaboration with SSEHS’s Dr Lauren Sherar and Professor Mark Hamer, of University College London and formerly of Loughborough University, saw Dr Pearson analyse data from 3,899 adolescents aged 14, from the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study, and examine the percentage who met recommendations for sleep, physical activity and screen-time.
The recommended guidelines include more than eight hours of sleep on a school night, screen-time of less than two hours per day, and 60 minutes a day or more of physical activity.
The amount of sleep and screen-time were self-reported and physical activity was assessed using a wrist-worn activity monitor.
The authors found that only 9.7% (378) of the adolescents met all three recommendations.
Of the participants, 89.3% met the guideline for sleep, 40.5% for activity and 23.1% for screen-time.
Those less likely to meet all three recommendations included boys and girls with depressive symptoms and boys who were obese.
The research also examined how the different behaviours impacted each other and found screen-time to be the main reason for not meeting all the recommendations.
Previous studies have examined the different behaviours separately, but there is little data on the combinations or 'clusters' of these behaviours.
Of the importance of the research, Dr Pearson said: “To improve the health of adolescents we need a better understanding of the patterns and combinations of health behaviours, and of the factors that may either increase risk or operate as protective factors.
“Given that adolescence is a time when health behaviours are most likely to become habitual, it is important that further research examines how these patterns of health behaviours evolve over time and how strategies can be developed to help adolescents live their healthiest lives.
“Our study showed that less than 1 in 10 14-year-olds in the UK met recommendations for sleep, screen-time and physical activity concurrently.
“These findings are important because meeting recommendations for multiple health behaviours is likely linked to better health outcomes than meeting recommendations for any individual health behaviour.
“High levels of screen-time appeared to be the main driver of adolescents not meeting all three recommendations and factors such as obesity, depression and income were linked to not meeting recommendations.
“Strategies and policies that simultaneously address screen-time, activity and sleep are required and may need to be tailored to specific target groups who are at higher risk.”
To read the full research letter, titled ‘Prevalence and correlates of meeting sleep, screen-time, and physical activity guidelines among UK adolescents’, click here.