Obesity — particularly in children — is an ongoing problem. And there are a number of factors we know contribute to it, such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. But there's another risk factor you may not have considered — a poor night's sleep.
Young teen boys need more sleep, less late-night diversions.
Young teen boys need more sleep, less late-night diversions. (iStockphoto.com)
Young teen boys in particular who spend their nights playing video games or texting their friends instead of sleeping are putting themselves at greater risk for gaining unhealthy amounts of weight and becoming obese.
But the same did not prove to be true of young teen girls, nor of high schoolers of both sexes, according to research presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver.
Although there's plenty of research showing young children and adults who don't get enough sleep are at risk for weight problems, there hasn't been much done on adolescents.
Researcher Leslie Lytle and colleagues at the Seattle Children's Research Institute studied more than 700 teens for the past two years — asking them questions like what they ate at school, how active they were, and how much sleep they got each night.
What they found was that middle school-aged boys who got less sleep had more body fat, were more likely to be overweight, and had worse Body Mass Indexes than those who slept longer.
For girls of the same age, sleep had little affect on weight.
Lytle says she was surprised by this, and thought maybe the reason is evolutionary.
"Maybe girls are better equipped to deal with environmental stress. They just biologically respond differently," she told us.
Another surprise — the sleep-weight relationship didn't pan out once the kids hit high school, but seems to kick back in at adulthood.
Over a lifetime, Lytle says, "We see a U-shaped curve."
Teens are supposed to get 8 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep or more a night. Most kids in the study didn't skimp all that much. They got about eight or 8 1/2 hours, Lytle says.
What can parents do? Create a routine, and make sleep a priority, Lytle says. "Parents and adults need to see sleep as an important health behavior — like brushing teeth," she says.
Another reason to encourage kids to get more sleep and keep active? Obese kids are the most likely to be bullied. Research in the journal Pediatrics this week suggests that obese kids were 63 percent more likely to be bullied than kids of regular weight, regardless of their race or family income.