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Health & Parenting

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Are Sleepy Kids at Risk for Obesity?

Children Who Slept the Least Had Greater Risk of Being Overweight
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 30, 2006 -- Kids today tend to sleep less and weigh more than their peers growing up just a few decades ago. Now intriguing new research suggests this is no coincidence.

The survey of grade-schoolers in Quebec showed that the less the children slept the more likely they were to become overweight.

Children who routinely got 10 hours or less of sleep a night had almost 3.5 times the risk than those who got 12 hours or more. Lack of sleep was a bigger risk factor for overweight and obesity in the study than any other known contributor, including parental obesity, family income, or time spent in front of the television or computer.

Although the observational findings must be confirmed in clinical trials, study co-author Angelo Tremblay, PhD, says the evidence that sleep deprivation plays a role in obesity is mounting.

"It is ironic that part of the solution to obesity might lie in sleep, the most sedentary of all human activities," he says. "In light of this study's results, my best prescription against obesity in children would be to encourage them to move more and to make sure they get enough sleep."

Twice as Many Overweight Kids

The rise in childhood obesity has been identified as a major public health concern in the industrialized world. There are twice as many overweight kids between the ages of 6 and 11 in the United States today than there were 20 years ago, and the number of teens who are overweight or obese has more than tripled.

At the same time, studies suggest that sleep deprivation is an increasing problem among children and adolescents.

While research also suggests that sleep deprivation may contribute to obesity among adults, few studies have investigated sleep patterns and weight in children.

The study by Tremblay and colleagues from Quebec's Laval University included 422 grade-school students in Quebec. There were equal numbers of boys and girls with an average age of 6.5 for the girls and 6.6 for the boys. Researchers measured the children's weight, height, and waist size, and information on sleep patterns and lifestyle was obtained through phone interviews with parents.

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