Too Little Sleep, Too Big a Waistline

Insufficient sleep among children may increase the risk of obesity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Kids who don't get enough sleep might drive their parents crazy sometimes, but there could be more at stake. Kids' waistlines could suffer too.

A recent study found that children getting the least amount of sleep through early childhood were most likely to be obese.

From infancy through age 7, children getting too little sleep had larger hip and waist measurements and greater fat mass.

The researchers suggested that one way to reduce risk of obesity in young children is to ensure they are getting sufficient sleep each night.

"Be sure your child is getting sufficient sleep daily."

The study, led by Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, of the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, looked at the relationship between weight and how much sleep children got.

The researchers followed 1,046 children from age 6 months until they were 7 years old.

Once a year, the children's mothers reported how many hours of sleep their children got in a 24-hour period.

These amounts were ranked on a scale from 0 to 13 where 13 meant the child had gotten all the sleep recommended for that age and 0 mean the child lost the most number of hours of sleep possible.

The children's weight, body fat mass, waist and hip circumferences and body mass index (BMI) were also calculated.

The BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight which is used to determine whether that person is a healthy weight or not.

During the course of the study, only 4.4 percent of children scored a 0 to 4 on the sleep scale, which means they frequently got too little sleep between 6 months and 7 years old.

Meanwhile, 12.3 percent scored a 5 to 7, and 28.8 percent scored a 10 to 11. The largest group, 40.3 percent, scored a 12 to 13, which means they got the sleep they needed throughout the time period studied.

When the researchers compared the BMI of children scoring 0 to 4 to the children scoring 12 to 13, they found the children getting less sleep had higher BMIs than the children getting complete sleep.

Similarly, the children getting the least amount of sleep had larger waist and hip circumferences and more fat mass than children getting sufficient sleep.

Overall, the children getting the least amount of sleep (scoring 0 to 4) were 2.6 times more likely to be obese than children getting complete sleep (scoring 12 to 13).

The researchers therefore concluded that getting too little sleep throughout infancy and early childhood is linked to having more fat mass and a higher risk of obesity.

"The significance of this new report is that it again confirms that insufficient in early childhood or infancy will lead to potential obesity," said William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.

"This particular study did additional testing of not only the BMI but also of total fat mass and fat mass distribution, which was unique," Dr. Kohler said, compared to previous studies that have shown similar increased risks of with obesity with insufficient sleep.

The study was published May 19 in the journal Pediatrics. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Centers for Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Review Date: 
May 18, 2014
Last Updated:
May 26, 2014