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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