Is Lack of Sleep Making Children Overweight?

Childhood obesity is on the rise worldwide and is considered by some to be a global epidemic. In some countries, rates of childhood obesity are as high as 7%. Research into childhood obesity has pointed to a number of generational factors that contribute to obesity, including poorer diet, decreased physical exercise, more television and video game time, and fewer hours of sleep.

Although a wide body of research has examined the effects of sleep on obesity in young children, few studies have focused on a critical developmental age, middle-childhood. It is during this time, between the ages of 9 and 11 that children begin to change physically and emotionally. They experience shifts in their hormones that affect their sleep cycles and also begin to adopt new sleeping patterns. How these changes affect obesity was the topic of a recent study led by Claudia Pileggi of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Catanzaro in Italy.

Pileggi surveyed over 500 ten-year-olds and their parents. The participants were asked to report their sleep patterns and average length of sleep per night in the three months preceding the survey. The children were measured for body mass index, nutritional intake, and other factors.

Pileggi found that an alarming number, more than 36% of the children in her study were either obese or overweight. Almost one in four children did not engage in regular physical activities and the majority, 60.7% reported spending more than one hour each day with electronics, including television, computers, or videogames.

Additionally, almost all, more than 94% of the participants, had inadequate diets and consumed too few fruits and vegetables. Finally, the children who were overweight had the shortest sleep durations. Average sleep lengths were 9.4 hours, but almost 40% of the children in the study had shorter sleep periods.

“In conclusion, our study showed that chronic lack of sleep appears to be associated with higher BMI even in middle childhood,” said Pileggi. The findings revealed in this study emphasize the need for immediate and aggressive interventions focused on sleep, exercise, and nutrition in children to reduce the risk of childhood obesity on a worldwide scale.

Pileggi, C., Lotito, F., Bianco, A., Nobile, C.G.A., Pavia, M. (2013). Relationship between chronic short sleep duration and childhood body mass index: A school-based cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66680. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066680

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  • Tatum


    August 8th, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    There are still, even after all the studies and research available to us, far too many people who take the seriousness of sleep and adequate sleep far too lightly. They think that if they get a gew hours of shut eye each night then they are fine, but they fail to see what this is doing to our children. Obesity is already such an epidemic in our country but one that is preventable in many ways. Just simply adding more sleep to our children’s days is one more easy way to battle this and yet parents are stil, fighting against this mainly because it could be interfering with the things that they want to do. #selfishparentsannoyme

  • Rick S

    Rick S

    August 8th, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    There has to be more to this epidemic than a simple lack of sleep. There are times when we all get too little sleep, but we are fine, we can function. What may be a better indicator is how many times a week the parents hit the drive thru for dinner. Now that is probaby a pretty big factor of why our kids are getting fatter and fatter.

  • gina


    August 9th, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    vast differences in the way we grew up when compared to our children now…exposure to media and electronic gadgets,combined with unhealthy foods can all contribute to obesity.I am not debunking the theory of lack of sleep but I think diet would play a more important role here.

  • Tate


    August 9th, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    I am not sure that you could come right out and say for 100 percent certainty that this one thing is what is causing childhood obesity but I think that you can definitively say that it isn’t making it any better.
    There are always things that we can do to keep ourselves and our children healthier and getting a good night’s sleep is always going to be at the top of the list. Why wouldn’t we stress this to our children?
    I think that we do them a service for life to teach them to be good sleepers from a very early age. You talk to them about the importance about healthy bodies, bedtimes, how all of those things work together and I think that you will see that these habits if established when they are young are ones that they will always yend to carry with them.

  • Custom Orthotics Nedlands

    Custom Orthotics Nedlands

    August 11th, 2013 at 1:48 AM

    For me lack of sleep is very less chance of a child becoming obese. Lack of proper diet, lack of exercise and letting them spend their vacant time on playing computers and watching TV is the biggest factor. This is also due to genes and having slow metabolism. Being overweight can be prevented since they are still a child. As a parent, I wont let my children experience overweight or being and obese. Id choose to give them proper diet and healthy lifestyle. After all, parents are the one who is responsible with this.

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