Poor Sleep Affects Childhood Obesity

Posted 11/02/2016 | By HealthCorps

It’s pretty clear that diet and exercise are both risk factors for childhood obesity.  Recent studies also suggest that poor sleep habits can contribute to the likelihood that a child will gain excess weight and become obese.

Numerous adult studies have linked poor sleep habits and patterns in adults to changes in metabolism and hormone levels, which can nudge a person to eat more or to be more sedentary the day after shorter sleep duration. The NIH (National Institute of Health) has now awarded a sizable grant to a researcher for the UC Nutrition Policy (NPI) in the UC division of Agriculture and National Resources to further investigate the role of sleep in childhood obesity. There will be a particular focus on Mexican-American children because one in five Mexican-American children is obese. The focus of the study will be social and cultural factors that may impact Mexican-American children’s sleep habits.

One phase of the study will look at cultural mores in Mexican-American families. For example, households may be stricter on sleep and bedtime hour. Research will help to show if this actually encourages more sleep or if it results in kids rebelling and sleeping less. Another phase of the study will focus on 40 children during the summer. They will be asked to sleep both fewer hours and more hours to see how it impacts diet and exercise habits.  Kids will be asked to keep journals delineating the number of hours they sleep, and list the following day’s food consumption and exercise efforts.

Currently, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends that kids get a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Additionally, the Dietary Guidelines for America was recently updated and provides guidelines for daily meals. There are currently no government recommendations or guidelines for kids and teens’ sleep. However, the National Sleep Foundation recently issued updated sleep guidelines for all age groups:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5):             Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)

These guidelines provide an excellent framework for parents to follow so they can help their kids target optimal sleep hours. If there are serious sleep issues, then speak to your pediatrician or ask for a referral to a board-certified sleep specialist. You can also learn more about sleep specialists by searching the database on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website.

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