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Clinical Studies and Practice

Social jetlag, obesity and metabolic disorder: investigation in a cohort study




Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. Circadian rhythms are known to control both sleep timing and energy homeostasis, and disruptions in circadian rhythms have been linked with metabolic dysfunction and obesity-associated disease. In previous research, social jetlag, a measure of chronic circadian disruption caused by the discrepancy between our internal versus social clocks, was associated with elevated self-reported body mass index, possibly indicative of a more generalized association with obesity and metabolic dysfunction.


We studied participants from the population-representative Dunedin Longitudinal Study (N=1037) to determine whether social jetlag was associated with clinically assessed measurements of metabolic phenotypes and disease indicators for obesity-related disease, specifically, indicators of inflammation and diabetes.


Our analysis was restricted to N=815 non-shift workers in our cohort. Among these participants, we found that social jetlag was associated with numerous clinically assessed measures of metabolic dysfunction and obesity. We distinguished between obese individuals who were metabolically healthy versus unhealthy, and found higher social jetlag levels in metabolically unhealthy obese individuals. Among metabolically unhealthy obese individuals, social jetlag was additionally associated with elevated glycated hemoglobin and an indicator of inflammation.


The findings are consistent with the possibility that ‘living against our internal clock’ may contribute to metabolic dysfunction and its consequences. Further research aimed at understanding that the physiology and social features of social jetlag may inform obesity prevention and have ramifications for policies and practices that contribute to increased social jetlag, such as work schedules and daylight savings time.

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We would like to acknowledge Dr Celine Vetter for her advice on the Munich Chronotype questionnaire. We thank Phil Silva, Dunedin Study founder, data-collection staff and study members. The work was supported by the followings grants: US National Institute of Aging grant AG032282 and the UK Medical Research Council grant MR/K00381X. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council. SG-M is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (T32-HD07376). MJP was supported by a Medical Research Council Core Grant (Nolan).

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Correspondence to M J Parsons.

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Parsons, M., Moffitt, T., Gregory, A. et al. Social jetlag, obesity and metabolic disorder: investigation in a cohort study. Int J Obes 39, 842–848 (2015).

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