Obesity has been in the headlines more often in recent years as the epidemic is also affecting our youth. Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, research suggests that both sleep-related breathing problems and a lack sleep each doubles the risk of a child becoming obese by the age of 15.
While numerous studies have already linked chronic sleep loss and childhood obesity, they hadn’t been tracked with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), which includes sleep apnea and snoring to find out their individual potential or combined influence for weight gain.
Lead study author Dr. Karen Bonuck and her colleagues at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, collected data on 1,899 children who were followed for 15 years by the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) based in England.
Severe SDB was the greatest risk factor for obesity among children, with the worse cases, including those with sleep apnea or consistent mouth-breathing, leading a child to be obese by 7, 10 and 15 years of age, compared to the children without any symptoms. Overall, 25% of children in the study had a significant increased risk for obesity due to SDB experienced in early life.
When it came to sleep duration, the children who slept the least amount of time each night (10.5 hours or less) around the age of 5-6, had a 60-100% increased risk of being obese at the age of 15. There weren’t any increased risks for obesity at any other age.
Surprisingly, the study concluded that while both chronic sleep loss and SDB are significant risk factors for childhood obesity, they were independent factors on their own.
“If impaired sleep in childhood is conclusively shown to cause future obesity, it may be vital for parents and physicians to identify sleep problems early, so that corrective action can be taken and obesity prevented,” Dr. Bonack informed. “With childhood obesity hovering at 17 percent in the United States, we’re hopeful that efforts to address both of these risk factors could have a tremendous public health impact.”