Less sleep linked with obesity in low-income kids

Kids from low-income homes who get less sleep at night may have a higher risk of obesity, a small new study suggests.

Researchers from the Rush University Prevention Center examined several potential obesity risk factors — including food intake and screen time — in addition to sleep, and found that sleep duration was the only factor directly associated with low-income children’s weight.

Specifically, children of normal weight slept for 33.3 more minutes than children who were overweight or obese in the study.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be regarded as preliminary.

The study included 6-to 13-year-olds from 103 low-income, urban households. Researchers analyzed their diets, amount of screen time, and sleep, and took note of what food, electronics, and sports equipment they had in their homes and bedrooms.

Researchers conducted modeling to find that increased screen time was linked with shorter sleep, and shorter sleep was linked with increased obesity risk. A chaotic home environment was also linked with shorter sleep duration, they found.

“Though dietary modification and physical activity are essential interventions for childhood obesity, our findings highlight the importance of targeting sleep in weight management interventions for low-income children by promoting a consistent bedtime routine, reducing chaos and disorganization in the home environment, and encouraging caregivers to monitor screen time,” study researcher Brad Appelhans, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and obesity researcher at Rush, said in a statement. “Our data also supports removing televisions from children’s bedrooms.”

Past research has shown that bedtime and wake time could have an influence on kids’ weight. For instance, a 2011 study in the journal SLEEP showed that kids who go to bed late and wake up late have a higher obesity risk, compared with kids who go to bed early and wake up early.

“Our findings show that this sleeping pattern is associated with unfavorable activity patterns and health outcomes, and that the adolescents who don’t follow this sleep pattern do better,” the researcher of that study, Carol Maher, Ph.D., of the University of South Australia, said in a statement.

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