Sleepy kids may struggle with obesity later

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Children who get less than the recommended amount of sleep for their age are at higher risk of developing obesity.

A new study shows that kids and adolescents who regularly sleep less than others of the same age gain more weight when they grow older and are more likely to become overweight or obese.

“Being overweight can lead to cardiovascular disease and type-2-diabetes which is also on the increase in children. The findings of the study indicate that sleep may be an important potentially modifiable risk factor (or marker) of future obesity,” says Michelle Miller, reader of biochemical medicine, health sciences at the University of Warwick Medical School.

Researchers reviewed the results of 42 population studies of infants, children, and adolescents aged 0 to 18 years which included a total of 75,499 participants. Researchers assessed their average sleep duration through a variety of methods, from questionnaires to wearable technology.

Researchers grouped the participants into two classifications: short sleepers and regular sleepers. Short sleepers were those who got less sleep than the reference category for their age, based on the most recent National Sleep Foundation guidelines.

Those guidelines recommend that infants (4 to 11 months) get between 12-15 hours of nightly sleep, toddlers (1-2 years) get 11-14 hours, children in pre-school (3-5 years) get 10-13 hours, and school-aged children (6-13 years) between 9 and 11 hours. Teenagers (14-17 years) are advised to get 8-10 hours.

To fight child obesity, engage the whole family

Researchers followed participants for a median period of three years and recorded changes in BMI and incidences of overweight and/or obesity over time. At all ages short sleepers gained more weight and were 58 percent more likely to become overweight or obese overall.

“The results showed a consistent relationship across all ages indicating that the increased risk is present in both younger and older children. The study also reinforces the concept that sleep deprivation is an important risk factor for obesity, detectable very early on in life,” Miller says.

The findings, which appear in the journal Sleep, demonstrate that “short sleep precedes the development of obesity in later years, strongly suggesting causality,” says coauthor Francesco Cappuccio.

“By appraising world literature we were able to demonstrate that, despite some variation between studies, there is a strikingly consistent overall prospective association between short sleep and obesity.

Children’s sleep quality matters for school

Obesity has increased worldwide, the researchers say, and the World Health Organization now declares it a global epidemic. While healthy eating and exercise are important, the findings demonstrate that getting enough sleep is equally important.

Source: University of Warwick