Toddlers Need Sleep to Avoid Obesity


Habits of overeating can start as young as when a toddler is first teething on Cheerios. A new study conducting with 2,600 children shows that toddlers who sleep less tend to eat more, which can lead to obesity later in life.

University College London (UCL) researchers found that 16-month-old toddlers who slept less than 10 hours a day consumed 10 percent more calories per day than children who slept 13 hours or more a day. On average, they consumed 105 more calories each day than their peers. One theory may be that parents are soothing over-tired, cranky kids with food or drinks rather than encouraging them to sleep more.

Studies have linked eating habits and sleep in adults, but this is the first to suggest that the nexus can start as a baby. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the researchers noted that the extra calories consumed in the toddler years establishes the pattern of overeating that leads to obesity and health issues as adolescents and adults.

The UCL study tracked the sleep and eating habits of 1,303 sets of twins, who were 16 months at the onset, in the United Kingdom for five months. Those children who slept less tended to eat more (1,087 calories) throughout the day than the others, who averaged 982 calories. The research also showed that the increased energy intake was observed before difference in weight emerged.

The study established an association between sleeping less and eating more, but did not establish the cause-and-effect relationship. The researchers indicated that the reason for the difference in energy consumption was also not clear, but suggested that the body’s ability to regulate appetite hormones may be affected by getting less sleep. Previous studies on adults have indicated that lack of sleep can create a hormone imbalance, which can affect the metabolism and also increase the appetite. Even a little sleep deprivation in grown-ups was found to affect body weight regulation, changing levels of insulin and other hormones.

Previous research showed sleeping less when you are younger can increase the risk of obesity. Dr Abi Fisher, from UCL’s Health Behavior Research Center, noted that the key finding here is that shorter sleeping toddlers consume more calories. It is known that adults who do not get enough sleep tend to snack more and comfort themselves with food.

Previous studies have also shown that adults and older children eat more, but the researchers wanted to see if that was true in younger children who do not make decisions about when or what they eat. Fisher noted that more research is needed to explain the reasons why children who slept less tended to eat more. She did suggest that parents should know about the increased obesity risk in children who slept less.

One could also suggest that parents should be aware that they are possibly creating a lifelong problem for their child. The reality is, however, that the toddlers are not getting themselves more food. Parents are clearly giving those tired toddlers more food, which then becomes a habit. So does not getting enough sleep and parents can influence that as well.

By Dyanne Weiss

University College London
The Telegraph
Web MD

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