Dr Geoff Kira

Study investigates if better sleep helps weight loss

Wellington teenagers will be part of a world-first study investigating how poor sleep affects body size. Massey researcher Dr Geoff Kira is leading the sleep improvement study, and is calling for teenagers and their whānau to get involved.

Forty teenagers, aged 13-16, and 40 adults – one family member for each teenager - are needed from Porirua and Lower Hutt to take part in the project, which targets Maori and Pasifika youths as they are overrepresented in obesity and type two diabetes statistics.

Dr Kira, from Massey’s School of Sport and Exercise, says the study, which starts in October, will examine sleep patterns and weight management in adolescents. “There’s a highly publicised relationship between poor sleep and obesity, so the less sleep you get the more weight you gain – that’s the association,” he says. “Adolescents have the worst sleep patterns of all the age groups and are therefore particularly at risk of being overweight or obese. This study will focus on whether improving teenager’s sleep helps weight loss.”

Before the trial participants will complete assessments reporting their sleep patterns, eating and physical activity habits and home environments, and undergo fitness tests. They will then be randomly assigned to either the intervention group, which receives sleep workshops, or a control group.

Both groups will meet for four workshops – one a week – centred on nutrition and physical activity. The intervention group will also focus on managing and controlling sleep duration and quality, and the consequences of poor sleep.

Dr Kira says the sessions will equip teenagers and their whānau with knowledge and strategies to change their behaviour and better manage their weight. The same assessments will be conducted again six and 12 months later and results compared. “We predict the sleep (intervention) group will lose more weight than the non-sleep (control) group,” he says.

The study, funded by the Health Research Council, is thought to be the first of its kind to investigate whether improving teenagers’ sleep can lead to better health outcomes. “It’s the first time sleep improvement has been attempted for weight management in adolescents, and whānau are an integral part of the programme,” Dr Kira says.

“The adult is in charge of sleep at home – not the adolescent, so I’m hoping they will change the home environment to improve sleep for everyone. I’m hoping that will have flow on effects for managing weight, but in other aspects of life, such as school or sport.”

If you are interested in participating or finding more information, please contact Geoff Kira on g.kira@massey.ac.nz or on 06 3569099 ext 81564.

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