May 20, 2014 – researchers from MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) has proven that there exists a potentially strong link between long-term sleep insufficiency and increase in body mass index and overall body fat in children.
It is well established through previous biomedical science researches that there is a strong cause and effect relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity in children. However, these studies did not use any other measuring tool other than the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is solely based on the height and weight of the child. In the present study, not only are the height and weight of the subjects measured, but also the waist and hip circumference, total body fat, abdominal fat and lean body mass. These parameters were said to more accurately reflect certain metabolic and cardiac health risks.
Dr. Elsie Taveras, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MGHfC and lead author of the Pediatrics paper, stated that the current study was not able to identify a critical period when sleep deprivation may cause obesity but they concluded that insufficient sleep during any time in the childhood years may indeed have adverse health consequences such as increased weight gain.
The biomedical science research team utilized data from Project Viva, which is a long-term investigative research regarding the health effects of several factors during pregnancy and post-partum periods. Interviews were conducted to gather information for the study. The interviewees were the mothers who were particularly asked about the sleeping habits of their children at age 6 months, 3 years and 7 years old. Questionnaires were then distributed which inquires about the same niche this time when their children are on their 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th year of life.
Mothers were asked about the length of time that their children are asleep in an average day including naps during the day and night. Curtailed sleep or sleep insufficiency were set as less than 12 hours per day, less than 10 hours per day, and less than 9 hours per day, for children aged 6 months to 2 years, 3 and 4, and age 5 to 7, respectively.
Data gathered from the mothers served as the basis for assigning a sleep score from 0 to 13, from the children who have the highest sleep deprivation (a score of 0), to the ones who did not have any difficulty sleeping at all (a score of 13).
The results, which were found to be consistent in all ages, showed that children who have had the lowest scores were the ones who have the highest levels of body measurements including that of abdominal fat, a particularly hazardous factor. These children were shown to have the highest predisposition to obesity and adiposity.
Dr. Taveras, who is also an associate professor of Pediatrics and Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), points out that parental counseling regarding sleeping habits is a very important component in promoting good sleep hygiene. She stressed while more trials are needed to strengthen the association between sleep deprivation and obesity, clinicians are recommended to teach their young patients and their parents about the importance proper sleeping habits.