Children's obesity risk Increased by breathing problems and poor sleep

A solid night’s sleep does more than recharge a growing brain — it may also help keep a growing body lean – and that applies to all of us. As winter has now arrived properly, and school holidays and Christmas approach fast, it becomes a very relevant subject for all of us.


Breathing problems or a chronic lack of sleep early in life may double the risk that a child will be obese by age 15, according to research published in The Journal of Paediatrics. Childhood obesity has been linked before with the number of hours a kid sleeps each night. But other early problems with night-time breathing, like snoring, or the more serious obstructive sleep apnoea, also seem to be predictive of significant weight gain among children, according to the research.

For the study, researchers analysed the data from 1,900 children in England and followed the participants for about 15 years. Study results showed that those who got the least amount of sleep between the ages 5 and 6 had between a 60 per cent and 100 per cent increased risk of obesity by age 15.

In recent years, lack of sleep has become a well-recognized risk for childhood obesity. Sleep-disordered breathing, or SDB, which includes snoring and sleep apnoea, is also a risk factor for obesity but receives less attention. However, these two risk factors had not been tracked together over time to determine their potential for influencing weight gain.

Simply, researchers found that children with the most severe sleep-disorder breathing (SDB) had the highest obesity risk.

If impaired sleep in childhood is conclusively shown to cause future obesity, then it may be vital for parents and physicians to identify sleep problems early, so that corrective action can be taken and obesity prevented.

With our knowledge that childhood obesity is hovering at 17 per cent in the United States, we’re hopeful that efforts to address both of these risk factors could have a tremendous public health impact in the future.

A common cause of sleep-related breathing problems in children is due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which can be removed with surgery if a major problem occurs. Misalignment of jaws or teeth can also cause issues.

However, we know that too many teens are not getting enough sleep and the problem is getting worse, according to a study from Columbia University. Researchers found that only 6.2 per cent to 7.7 per cent of females and 8.0 per cent to 9.4 per cent of males reported getting the required nine or more hours of sleep that they really need each day.

We must always remember that it’s easier to prevent obesity than to treat it – whether it is in children, or in adults – and in the case of children there are many other additionally known benefits as well as good health, such as better behaviour and an increased focus on their schoolwork and studies.

Sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnoea are best prevented in children by ensuring good sleep hygiene patterns, and in the case of the adult a simple stop snoring mouthpiece can make all the difference. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’

John Redfern