Surprising Fact that May Contribute to Childhood Obesity Statistics

childhood obesity statistics and sleep

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There has been very little dent in the childhood obesity statistics over the past decade or so. Sure, there’s been much attention focused on the problem, but very little real answers.

The least painful answer is for kids to get out and move.  Or at least this recommendation is the one that is not going to cost any big businesses money and may even generate additional income.  You will never see a recommendation to avoid dairy or refined carbohydrates because these recommendations would be very, very painful to certain business that “support” the efforts to fight childhood obesity.  The sad thing is that, while exercise is important, it’s low on the totem pole of important changes to make.

While the dietary changes are the most powerful tools we have for fighting off obesity, there are other more sneaky things that contribute.  Take family meals, for instance.  It is well documented that family meals increase the quality of the foods eaten and lower the risk of obesity.  And these families meals should NOT involve television viewing.  That’s a pretty darn easy recommendation, but may require some pretty serious changes in the priorities of parents.

This particular study addresses another one of those little known factors when it comes to obesity rates, whether in children or adults.

Sleep.  Or rather, lack of it.

Yup.  Lack of sleep has been consistently shown to increase obesity rates.  And why shouldn’t it?  It’s a stress on the body and stress contributes to weight gain.  All too often, we don’t stress the importance of getting a solid nights’ sleep, especially in our teenage high school students.

In the study, researchers looked at the sleeping habits of  250 healthy high school students from public school (average age 15.7 years with 57% black and 54% female).  These kids were from low to middle class families.  The amount of sleep was measured both from a diary and from actigraphy (a small device attached to the wrist or arm to monitor the amount of sleep based on body movements).  Here’s what they found:

  • The amount of sleep during the week in the group was clearly too low (6.8 hours based on diary and 6.0 based on actigraphy).
  • On the weekend, the amount of sleep was a little higher at  8.7 based on the diary and 7.4 based on actigraphy.
  • Black participants and male participants slept less and had more fragmented sleep.
  • Female participants reported poorer quality of sleep in their daily diaries and more daytime sleepiness.

Given that the recommendations for sleep in this age group is 8 to 9 hours, this is a big problem.  Even when they think they can “catch up” on sleep over the weekend (you can’t) the actual sleep measured by actigraphy is still too low.

As parents, it is our job to set the stage for the importance of sleep for long-term health.  Those habits are picked up early and can contribute to a lifetime of poor health.  How much sleep did YOUR teenager get last night?


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.