Family Matters

Does Lack of Sleep for Children Mean Obesity?

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As if parental sleep deprivation weren’t bad enough, now there’s something else to fret about when your tyke doesn’t get enough Z’s.

A new study in September’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reports that infants and preschool-aged children who get too little nighttime sleep may be at risk for childhood obesity.

To make matters worse, it doesn’t make a difference if you try to compensate for a lack of nighttime sleep by giving a child a mongo afternoon nap. Napping, say the authors, doesn’t reduce the risk of becoming overweight.

In the past 30 years, obesity has doubled among kids ages 5 to 12 and adolescents ages 12 to 19; it’s tripled among kids between the ages of 6 to 11, so there’s ample cause for concern. There’s growing evidence, write the study authors, of a “robust contemporaneous relationship between shortened sleep duration and unhealthy weight status in children and adolescents.”

How did they come to this conclusion? Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California, Los Angeles studied 1,930 children ages 0 to 13 years, collecting data first in 1997 and again in 2002. They separated the children into two groups: 0 to 5 and 5 to 13.

In 2002, the authors found that 33% of the younger group and 36% of the older group were overweight or obese. Not getting enough nighttime sleep in 1997 correlated with an increased risk of weight gain in 2002 for the younger children.

The older group showed only marginally increased odds of obesity in 2002, leading the authors to conclude that sleep duration five years prior had not had much of an effect. Instead, the authors wrote that their findings point to a “critical window prior to age 5 years when nighttime sleep may be important for subsequent obesity status.”

It may be time to break out that copy of Goodnight, Moon a little earlier than usual tonight.