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Adequate sleep to prevent childhood obesity

Is your child getting enough sleep? How about your teen? Well, studies have shown that children including adolescents that have shorter sleep are at a higher risk of developing obesity.

Obesity among children is on the rise. Studies have suggested childhood obesity as a risk factor for chronic diseases in later life. Identifying factors than can be modified to minimize risk is therefore important for the health of the public.  In addition to a healthy diet and exercise that have been strongly associated with lower risk of developing obesity, adequate sleep has also been shown to reduce the risk of obesity.

Now sleep has many functions across the life cycle that include improving immunity, growth, learning and cognitive functioning development, reducing risk of heart diseases, fatigue and other sleep related disorders that may continue into adulthood.

In the study two groups classified as short sleepers and regular sleepers were reviewed where the participants were children and adolescents 0 to 18 years. The two groups classification which were based on U.S. National Sleep Foundation most recent guidelines, defined short sleepers as those sleeping less than is recommended according to age. According to the guidelines, infants (4 to 11 months) should get 12-15 hours of nightly sleep, toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours of sleep, children in pre-school (3-5 years) 10-13 hours and school aged children (6-13 years) between 9 and 11 hours. Teenagers (14-17 years) are advised to get 8-10 hours (Miller, 2018).

In the three years follow up of the participants, changes in BMI and incidences of overweight and obesity records showed that across all ages, short sleepers gained more weight and were 58% more likely to develop overweight or obesity.

Previous studies have suggested inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity, and this study also supports it. Given, we really need to support our children to ensure they get enough sleep.


Christine Nderitu

Licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through health education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. She writes a weekly (Monday) nutrition column in the People Daily and is experienced in nutrition management, research, health education and promotion in; HIV/AIDS, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Maternal and Child Health and Non-Communicable Diseases. She has been engaged in these activities since 2011. Christine feels the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour. And humanity-we have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.