A New Revelation: Obesity may be about more than what kids eat and how they move

kids eat

You’re careful about what you feed your kids. You make sure they get at least five servings of veggies and fruits a day. You buy organic whenever you can. Your family outings include regular outdoor active playtime. But you still worry about the childhood obesity stats. You wonder if you’re missing something.

Turns out, there may be something we’ve all been missing!

New information has recently been uncovered about an important link: the link between kids’ sleep quality and obesity. The link is more profound and more specific than many people expected. This information is so important because more than 1 in 3 children today end up overweight even as kids.[i]

Sleep in kids has been decreasing since 1905, about the time electric light bulbs were popularized.[ii] Some research suggests that sleep has been decreasing rapidly since the 1980s, during the same period when the childhood obesity epidemic took off.[iii]

More than a dozen studies have shown that the worse kids sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese. But which comes first? Is it that overweight kids sleep worse, that kids who sleep worse become overweight, or that something else is causing both (TV viewing, for instance)? This new study looked at typical 6-month-old babies and followed them until they were 7 years old to see which ones became obese – checking their sleep all along the way.

Here’s what they found: Kids with worse sleep as babies and young children were 2.62 times more likely to later become obese. They were also more likely to have bigger waist size and more belly fat. These relationships held up even after adjusting for a number of possible other factors such as television viewing, socioeconomic situations, and Mom’s BMI.[iv] How might poor sleep lead to significant weight gain? The authors point to mounting evidence that a disrupted circadian rhythm can both directly lead to weight gain by changing our hormone levels and metabolism and indirectly lead to weight gain by changing our hunger, fullness, and decision making. When it comes to raising kids with a healthy weight during this era of childhood obesity, it’s time to move beyond thinking just about the kitchen to include thinking about the bedroom.

[i]
Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association [0098-7484], Ogden yr:2014 vol:311 iss:8 pg:806 -814
[ii
In search of lost sleep: secular trends in the sleep time of school-aged children and adolescents. Sleep Medicine Reviews [1087-0792], Matricciani yr:2012 vol:16 iss:3 pg:203 -211
[iii]
Trends in the duration of school-day sleep among 10- to 15-year-old South Australians between 1985 and 2004 Acta Paediatrica, J. Dollman, K. Ridley, T. Olds, E. Lowe 96 (7) (2007), pp. 1011–1014
[iv]
Chronic sleep curtailment and adiposity.
Pediatrics,
Taveras EM
1,
Gillman MW
2,
Peña MM
3,
Redline S
4,
Rifas-Shiman SL
5.2014 Jun;133(6):1013-22. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3065.

Alan Greene, MD is a practicing pediatrician and a leading voice in children's health and the environment. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of California at San Francisco. In 1995 he launched DrGreene.com, cited by the AMA as "the pioneer" physician Web site and was named "The Children's Health Hero of the Internet" by Intel. He was given the Healthy Child Award for Prevention for founding the WhiteOut campaign to change the way children are fed starting with their very first bite of solid food. Dr. Greene is the author of several books, including Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green and he appears frequently in the media including such venues as the TODAY Show, the Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America & The New York Times.

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