The latest figures from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the U.S. obesity problem isn’t confined to adults. About 17 percent of American children and teens — almost 13 million — are obese. And health problems like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, once thought of as diseases of middle age, are now showing up in overweight youngsters.
While parents can help kids avoid extra pounds by saying no to junk food and sugary drinks and encouraging regular exercise, an Ohio State University College of Public Health study of almost 1,000 children found something else is important, too: Make sure your little ones get to bed by 8 p.m. or earlier.
The research team used data on almost 1,000 youngsters born in 10 U.S. cities in1991. The information was compiled for the long-term National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s study of early child care and youth development.
When the children enrolled in the study were four and a half years old, their moms were asked if their preschoolers typically went to bed on weeknights at 8 p.m. or before, between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., or later than 9 p.m. After a decade passed, the researchers looked to see how much the adolescents weighed to see if there was a correlation with the youngsters’ bedtimes as little kids. The results revealed a dramatic link.
Nearly one-fourth of teens who had the latest bedtimes when they were preschoolers were obese. In fact, going to bed after 9 p.m. doubled the risk a child would be obese by age 15. About 16 percent of youngsters who had bedtimes in the middle range as little kids were also obese. But only one in 10 of the adolescents who were tucked in at 8 p.m. or before when they were kindergarten age had weight in the obesity range.
As part of their study, Sarah Anderson, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, and her colleagues studied videotapes of the children as preschoolers playing with their moms. They looked to see if the emotional life in a child’s home seemed nurturing or stressful — factors which can influence household routines, such as putting a little kid to bed at night.
The researchers noted interactions between parent and child that indicated what the researchers call “maternal sensitivity,” a measurement of maternal support, lack of hostility and respect of their child’s autonomy. The moms who scored lowest in “maternal sensitivity” tended to have children who went to bed the latest. However, whether the maternal-child relationship seemed ideal or strained, there was a strong link between later bedtimes and obesity.
"For parents, this reinforces the importance of establishing a bedtime routine," said Anderson, who headed the study. "It's something concrete that families can do to lower their child's risk and it's also likely to have positive benefits on behavior and on social, emotional and cognitive development."
The study provides pediatricians with scientifically based advice they can share with parents, as well, Anderson added. A child’s doctor is in a position to discuss the importance of early bedtimes for youngsters’ overall health, including preventing obesity, and the pediatrician can talk to parents about any hardships and barriers they may face getting their kids to bed early, Anderson said.
The researchers noted that previous studies found a relationship between short sleep duration and obesity. Alarm clocks and morning activity in the household give parents little control over when a young child wakes up, so the Ohio State University researchers focused on bedtimes because they can be controlled. Although there’s no guarantee a child will fall asleep immediately as soon as they are tucked in for the night, establishing a consistent bedtime makes it more likely a youngster will get the amount of sleep they need, according to Anderson.
The CDC offers information on obesity and overweight risks in childhood and the teen years, along with strategies to help keep youngsters at a healthy weight.
November 30, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN