Children not getting enough sleep, risking poor diets and obesity, BNF survey finds

New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 32 percent of primary and 70 percent of secondary school children reported sleeping less than 9 hours* on the previous night, despite emerging research linking poor sleep quality to less healthy food choices, and increased risk of obesity. On top of this, 44 percent of secondary school children report waking up at least once during the previous night.

The research, conducted as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week, taking place 10-14 June, surveyed 6,018 primary and secondary school students, aged 7 – 16 years, across the UK, and asked questions about their night time routines, sleep, and eating and drinking habits on the previous night. 'Sleep Well' is one of the focusses for this year's BNF Healthy Eating Week, and aims to highlight why getting enough good quality sleep is a key element of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr Lucy Chambers, Senior Scientist at BNF says: "BNF Healthy Eating Week promotes and celebrates healthy living by focusing on five health challenges which schools and nurseries are encouraged to take on: Have Breakfast, Have 5 A DAY, Drink Plenty, Get Active, and, new for this year, Sleep Well. With more and more emerging research linking lack of sleep to poor dietary choices, and the burgeoning childhood obesity crisis in the UK, we are keen to place a new focus on sleep this year. Where there are so many significant messages about health which teachers must communicate to their pupils, the importance of good quality sleep can often be missed.

 "Schools registered for BNF Healthy Eating Week receive a variety of free resources and activities to encourage pupils to embrace the five health challenges. This year, we have created a number of resources for teachers to educate students about sleep in relation to health, and these can be used throughout the year as well as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week activity."

The survey also reveals what some of the barriers might be to a good night's sleep, with 59 percent of secondary school students and 49 percent of primary school students stating that, on the night of the survey, they used screens (computers, tablets, phones, television) just before bed. On top of this, one in ten (9 percent) secondary school students reported drinking a caffeinated drink before bed.

Only about a third of secondary and primary school students stated that they felt well rested or wide awake when they woke up and 32 percent of secondary school students said it took them more than 10 minutes to get out of bed after their alarm went off.

Chambers comments: "The implications of a bad night's sleep can go much further than feeling tired. Where lack of, and disturbed, sleep can lead to both adults and young people feeling grumpy and irritable, regular poor quality sleep can have a negative impact on dietary choices, including higher intakes of calories and more frequent snacking on less healthy foods."

Amongst the other key elements of BNF Healthy Eating Week are the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast, and drinking plenty of fluids. The survey looked into how schoolchildren start their day, and reveals that a quarter of secondary school students reported not having anything to eat before school, with one in ten primary school students reporting that they did not eat breakfast that day. Of those who did have breakfast, only 17 percent of secondary school children reported including any fruit or vegetables. Additionally, a quarter of secondary school students do not drink anything before starting their school day that day.

 Chambers comments: "Breakfast helps children to get the day off to a good start by providing the energy and nutrients their bodies need for good health and it's also a great opportunity to make a start on your 5 A DAY. It is recommended that we should consume around 6-8 unsweetened drinks every day to keep hydrated. This is particularly important for children who should be reminded to drink fluids regularly, as they may not remember by themselves.

"We hope that BNF Healthy Eating Week will enthuse and educate students about these important health challenges. For the 'Have Breakfast' challenge, resources and activities for children include: a 'Have Breakfast' meal planner, 'Guess the Fibre Content' games, and a 'My Breakfast Swapper' chart, with tips for how to make a healthier breakfast. For Drink Plenty, resources provide handy tips on how to stay hydrated, such as keeping a reusable bottle of water with you throughout the day. 

"Alongside the concerns about sleep and diet, the survey also found that 15 percent of children reported not brushing their teeth before bed the night before. This is a worrying finding as we know that good dental hygiene is vital for oral health."

All of the BNF Healthy Eating Week materials have been designed so that the initiative can be continued all year round. Visit www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/hew/bnfhew19.html  or www.foodafactoflife.org.uk  for more information.

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