Obesity: Tight Sleep = Loose Pants?

We often stress that lifestyle is an important factor determining your insurance premiums. Recent research finds that changing your baby’s lifestyle during his or her earliest years can have a significant impact on his or her health later on.

A study conducted in the U.S. focused on the link between sleep and weight in a representative sample of U.S. children aged 0 to 13 years, Reuters reports . The survey was conducted in two parts – the first part took place in 1997, with a follow-up in 2002. This allowed the researchers to track health developments in the same children over a longer period of time. The study was able to show that children who slept more than 10 hours a day before age 5 had smaller chances of becoming overweight in their adolescent life. More specifically, toddlers up to 3 years of age are advised to sleep 12 to 14 hours a day. Older children up to age 5 are advised to sleep at least 11 to 13 hours a day. Children from 5 to 10 should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep as well. The trend continues, advising teenagers to go with 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep daily. The researchers make sure to mention that afternoon naps do not count towards these times.

In older children, shorter sleeping times could not be directly associated with obesity, but would still be able to sway the child’s weight in an unfavourable direction temporarily. The reasons for this are not clear yet. Various theories suggest that sleep alters one’s metabolism and hormone levels, which in turn affect one’s hunger and appetite. That holds true for adults as well as children. In addition, Dr. Janice F. Bell suggests that “it might be that kids who don’t get enough sleep are a little bit too tired to engage in the amount of activity that they need.” Perhaps a less creative reason could be that the longer one stays awake, the more opportunities he or she has to eat.

As mentioned above, the advantage of this study is the fact that its subjects were observed over a longer time span, as opposed to only one moment. This allowed the researchers to trace changes in the same individuals, not just averaging across a heterogeneous group. Most other studies had to rely on statistical presence of obesity among the tested groups and subjects’ recollections of their past habits.

Fortunately, the sleeping habits are something we can easily change, especially in younger children who are impacted most. Staying in good health will definitely increase one’s ability to make the most of his or her life, but might also make his or her health care and life insurance costs lower.

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