The Playground, the Kitchen, and the Bedroom: What do they all have in common?

Most parents know that kids need to be active and eat a healthy amount of good food to maintain a healthy weight. What they don’t know is the link between the quality of sleep and obesity.

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 EM1, Gillman MW2, Peña MM3, Redline S4, Rifas-Shiman SL5.2014 Jun;133(6):1013-22. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3065.

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