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You and Your Health

Young Girls May Lose Sleep Over Pressure to Be Thin

Young Girls May Lose Sleep Over Pressure to Be Thin

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Female friends most likely source of this problem among whites, researchers suggest.

Some people may lose sleep over the pressure to be thin—especially young white girls who are being pushed by female friends to lose weight or stay skinny, according to a new study.

“There is a significant amount of research in other areas regarding pressure on adolescent females to minimize body weight, but this pressure as it relates to sleep health is a less-explored topic and its consequences are mostly unknown,” said the study’s principal investigator, Katherine Marczyk, a doctoral student in clinical health psychology and behavioral medicine at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. “These results are important as this discovery could be one of the first steps in this research,” she explained in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

In conducting the study, which was to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis, researchers asked 789 Texas middle-school students, all females and averaging 12 years of age, to describe how much pressure they felt to lose weight and be thin.

The girls also pinpointed the sources of this pressure, which included peers, family, friends and the media. Researchers then assessed the girls’ quality of sleep to measure how this external pressure to be skinny affected how much sleep they got.

The pressure the girls felt to be thin from girlfriends as well as from the media significantly predicted sleep duration, accounting for 4.5 percent of the difference in how much sleep the girls got.

That discrepancy in sleep duration jumped to 6 percent among white girls (about 60 percent of the study’s participants) who faced pressure to be skinny from their friends, the investigators found.

The study authors added that losing sleep could put young girls at risk for other health problems, including increased anxiety and depression.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about healthy weight for teens at girlshealth.gov.