Sleep Quality Affects Children’s Eating Habits, Linked To Obesity

AUSTIN, Texas — Children who struggle to sleep soundly may battle eating issues and struggle to maintain a healthy weight over time, a recent study finds.

Past research confirms that poor sleep can lead to obesity in adults, but when it comes to findings related to children, most studies center around how long children sleep, as opposed to the quality of the rest.

For this study, researchers, led by Dr. Bernard Fuemmeler, associate director for cancer prevention at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center, measured the sleep patterns of 120 children about 8 years old. The research team monitored the children’s sleep-wake cycle with accelerometers around the clock for a period of at least five days. Eating habits were also studied: the children were asked to report when they felt full during each meal they ate, while the authors tracked how much food was consumed.

Researchers found that children who experienced fragmented sleep were more likely to have larger waist circumferences. The same was true for those who showed increased intradaily variability, a measure of the frequency and extent of transitions between sleep and activity.

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“Today, many children are not getting enough sleep,” says Dr. Fuemmeler in a release by the American Association for Cancer Research. “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. Because of the strong links between obesity and many types of cancer, childhood obesity prevention is cancer prevention, in my view.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five young Americans between ages 6 and 19 is obese.

The study was presented in January 2018 at the American Association for Cancer Research Special Conference Obesity and Cancer: Mechanisms Underlying Etiology and Outcomes.