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Bedtime story: Lack of sleep links to childhood obesity

by Abigail Thorpe
Jun 10, 2014


Courtesy of Flickr user thejbird.


Increased sleep for parents means more sleep for children. And that helps to reduce childhood obesity, finds a new study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This new study specifically focuses on the relationship between parent and child routines and obesity. It demonstrates that parent and child sleep habits are closely connected. Children who receive optimal sleep times of 10 hours or more are at a lower risk for obesity. Adults should get seven hours or more of sleep per night.

The study followed 337 preschool-aged children and their primary caregivers, and focused on various positive and protective routines practiced by each, including sleep time, family mealtime routine, and kids’ time spent in front of the TV.

“The causes for obesity are never just one factor. This study points to several factors that are important for understanding- and protecting children from- obesity: getting a good nights sleep, having regular mealtime routines, reducing exposure to too much television. Other factors that are important are a balanced diet and getting enough physical activity,” said Barbara Fiese, director of the University of Illinois’ Family Resiliency Center and co-author of the study.

“The path model showed that parent sleep was related to child sleep, and that both child sleep and parent BMI were significantly related to child overweight,” reported the study.

Late nights and less sleep may contribute to increased hunger and unhealthy snacking, in addition to decreased physical activity due to fatigue. “Lack of sleep also disrupts the balance of key hormones that control appetite, so sleep-deprived people may be hungrier than those who get enough rest each night,” according to the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source “Sleep Deprivation and Obesity.”

Obesity has become an increasing concern among preschool aged children in recent years, said Kelly Bost, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Lack of sleep does not only affect weight, it contributes to increased stress response, emotional reactions, depression and other physical and emotional problems that can put people at risk, said Bost.

Family plays a large role in determining children’s sleep, eating and exercise habits. Earlier bed times, reducing TV time to two hours per day, and removing TVs from children’s rooms can help promote healthy habits amongst kids, and help reduce the risk for obesity.

“If the entire family practices good sleep habits then it becomes part of the overall routine that is associated with better health,” said Fiese.