Only 5% of US teens get enough sleep, exercise, and time away from screens

Only five percent of US teens are meeting the national recommendations for sleep, exercise, and screen time, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said older teenagers and those who were black and Hispanic were less likely to meet the targets.

And teenage boys are more than two times as likely to get enough rest, fitness and time off screens compared to teen girls. 

‘That’s a pretty dire statistic that they’re not meeting all these recommendations simultaneously,’ first author Dr Gregory Knell, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told

‘It could have a significant effect on their physical health, emotional well-being and performance in school.’

A new study has found that just one in 20 US teens are meeting the national recommendations for sleep, physical activity and screen times (file image)

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, the team looked at 60,000 American high school students between 2011 and 2017 from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.

The survey is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments, and looks at six categories of health-related behaviors that lead to death and disability in adolescents and young adults.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends children between ages 14 and 18 get eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests at least one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise every day and less than two hours of screen time per day.

However, the researchers found that just one in 20 teens were meeting the national recommendations.   

‘We pretty know how those behaviors are important individually, but evidence suggests the combination of all three are even more important for health,’ said Dr Knell.

‘I think we all anticipated this prevalence statistic would be low, but not five percent.’

When it came down to differences in sex, three percent of girls and seven percent of boys met all three goals.

Dr Knell says understanding why will be a topic for future studies, but hypothesizes that it could be that girls have a harder time meeting the physical activity level. 

‘On a population level, girls tend to be less active then boys,’ he said. 

Several studies have shown that not getting enough sleep puts teens at risk of poor academic performance and obesity. They are also more likely to engage in risky behavior and develop substance abuse.

An October 2018 study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, found teenagers who regularly got less than six hours sleep each night were twice as likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. 

The new study also looked at other attributes that could be linked to teens’ sleep, physical activity and screen time.

Researchers found that teens between ages 16 and 17 were less likely to meet all three targets than those aged 14 and younger.

Additionally, black, Hispanic and Asian youth had a higher risk of not meeting the recommendations compared to their white peers.

‘We would only be able to hypothesize why we see these subgroups not meeting targets,’ said Dr Knell.

‘Previous studies that have looked at sleep have cited socioeconomic status, cultural differences, parenting practices, home environment as reasons for the discrepancy.’

For future research, the authors say they would like to study how much parenting style and home environment have an effect on these behaviors.

‘We know that the home environment, micro-scale home environment – computer screens in the bedroom, video games in the bedroom, phones – have an effect on screen time surely, but also sleep and maybe physical activity as well.’ 

The team also urges parents to model healthy behavior for their children and to make small changes gradually.

‘You don’t have to make life-altering drastic changes to have a positive effect,’ said Dr Knell.

‘Small changes can have an effect. We hypothesize a little bit of physical activity will change sedentary time and will in turn change sleep.’