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Let’s move – and sleep – to reduce childhood obesity

Filed in
  • children
  • Obesity
  • sleep length

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jan 23, 2013
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The CDC reports that about 17 percent of children and teens in the U.S. are obese. Since 1980, the rate of childhood obesity has almost tripled.

In response to this crisis, many programs are focusing on physical activity. SPARK promotes “sports, play and active recreation for kids.” It provides resources to enhance physical education in schools. 

NFL Play 60 encourages kids to get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. And First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move to encourage kids to get more exercise.

But a new study shows that physical activity alone may not be enough to reduce childhood obesity. The three-year follow-up study took place in Melbourne, Australia. It involved 182 overweight or obese children. They ranged from 5 to 10 years of age.

Both activity and body mass index were monitored. Results show that even the largest increase in activity produced only small BMI changes.

The study was published online ahead of print Jan. 14. It appears in the journal Pediatrics.

So what is the solution to the childhood obesity problem? Most programs that target obesity focus on activity and nutrition. For example, Let’s Move also strives to help children develop healthy eating habits.

But these programs may be missing a critical element: sleep. Research shows that there is a strong link between sleep duration and weight. Sleep plays an important role in the regulation of our appetite and metabolism.

Last year a study reviewed the research that focuses on sleep duration and weight gain. Seven of the 20 studies involved children. All of these studies reported a link between short sleep durations and increased weight over time among children.

One program that has the right balance is EatSleepPlay. The program is a health initiative of The Children’s Museum of Manhattan. CMOM is striving to help children “eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise.”

As part of the program, the museum is selling two children’s picture books published by the AASM. The Animals Sleep: A Bedtime Book of Biomes and I See the Animals Sleeping: A Bedtime Story emphasize the importance of sleep for both animals and children.

So how much sleep does your child need? It depends on his or her age. It also depends on the individual. Each of us has an individual sleep need that varies from one person to another.

But in general, the AASM recommends that school-aged children get at least 10 hours of sleep per night. Younger children need ever more sleep.

So make sure that your child is getting a good night of sleep every night. Along with diet and exercise, sleep is one of the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle.