Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it disproportionately affects children from low-income families.
The CDC also reports that nearly one in five children between the ages 6 and 19 is obese.
Many factors contribute to childhood obesity, but new research has found that poor sleep quality leads to a higher body mass index (BMI).
The study was carried out by researchers from The Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center.
As obesity rates climb, so do the risks of cancer.
“Childhood obesity very often leads to adult obesity,” said Bernard Fuemmeler, the study’s lead author. “This puts them at greater risk of developing obesity-related cancers in adulthood.”
It’s been previously proven that poor sleep is connected to adult obesity, but less research has been done on the link between childhood obesity and sleep habits.
The researchers enrolled 120 children from the Newborn Epigenetic Study, which examines how environmental exposures and nutrition affect genes.
The children were asked to wear accelerometers for five days in order to track sleep-wake cycles and given the “eating in the absence of hunger test.” The hunger test asks participants to eat until they feel full and allowed the researchers to better understand the children’s eating habits.
After analyzing both sleeping and eating habits in the study participants, the researchers discovered that shorter sleep and restless sleep was linked to a higher BMI and bigger waist size.
If a child got more sleep, every extra hour of sleep was linked to a decreased BMI. The results also showed that less sleep led to a higher intake of calories.
“Today, many children are not getting enough sleep,” Fuemmeler said. “There are a number of distractions, such as screens in the bedroom, that contribute to interrupted, fragmented sleep. This, perpetuated over time, can be a risk factor for obesity.”
The researchers hope their results will help create new treatments to prevent childhood obesity and the increased risk of cancer related to obesity.