A UA researcher stands in his lab.

UA Researcher Studies How Obesity, Sleep Affect Chronic Diseases

Dr. Adam Knowlden
Dr. Adam Knowlden

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A University of Alabama researcher recently received a National Institutes of Health grant to conduct a leading-edge study that will investigate the relationship between obesity and sleep and their role in developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Dr. Adam Knowlden, associate professor in UA’s department of health science, was awarded more than $800,000 to develop a comprehensive obesity-sleep model that will lay the foundation for further research into the prevention and treatment of obesity and sleep-related cardiometabolic disease risk factors.

“Obesity and short sleep duration are highly prevalent, interconnected risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases in adults,” said Knowlden. “However, a comprehensive obesity-sleep model has remained elusive due to the complexity of the relationship between these two health-related states.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

Knowlden’s study will investigate the relationship between obesity and sleep duration while considering the participant’s gender, body composition and socioecological factors.

“The primary contributing factor we will explore is how obesity and poor sleep play a role in cardiometabolic diseases,” said Knowlden. “The difficult aspect with sleep is we have a classic chicken and egg scenario. We know that poor sleep leads to an out of sync hormone profile, including hormones that regulate hunger and satiation. This, in turn, leads to overeating, which causes weight gain. This weight gain, in turn, can lead to sleep apnea.”

Phase one of the project will be an in-lab study to collect obesity indices and cardiometabolic data, such as blood pressure and pulse wave velocity. The second phase will be a one-week, home-based study to gather sleep-related data.

“While sleep-based survey research is common, we have a unique angle in that we will follow up the survey data with clinical data,” said Knowlden.

Knowlden points out that behavioral, environmental and cultural factors often contribute to developing cardiometabolic diseases. And while much more emphasis has been placed on studying nutrition and physical activity, only recently has sleep been explored as a contributing factor to chronic diseases.

“One of the difficult aspects of this issue is we don’t really have a complete model of the factors that contribute to understanding the relationship between sleep and obesity,” said Knowlden. “If we can develop a model, we can then determine the best ways to intervene on these health issues. However, this will take some time, and this project is the first step in that direction.”


Bryant Welbourne, UA communications, bryant.welbourne@ua.edu, 205-348-8325


Adam Knowlden, aknowlden@ches.ua.edu