Sleepy Baby

Sleeping Like a Baby to Prevent Obesity

Childhood obesity starts early. By the time infants become toddlers, about 14 percent have obesity. If you read about the priorities for preventing childhood obesity, you’ll find a lot about nutrition. Family activities, too. But sleeping is a mere footnote.

This might be a serious mistake, if you go by what recent research says.

The Importance of Infants Sleeping Well

A recent study in AJCN compared usual care for infants with three interventions to prevent obesity. In one group, the intervention promoted breastfeeding, healthy eating, and physical activity. The second group received help to prevent sleep problems. The third group received both interventions. And then finally, a fourth group received standard care to serve as the control group.

Surprisingly, the group that got coaching on breastfeeding, healthy eating, and physical activity did the worst. That intervention actually seemed to cause a significantly higher risk of obesity at the age of five.

In contrast, the groups that received the sleep intervention had a lower risk of obesity than the control group.

Supporting Data

It turns out that this is not surprising finding. An earlier more limited analysis from this cohort in Pediatrics last year had a similar finding. Promoting healthy nutrition and activity for infants had no effect at two years. But the group that received help with healthy sleeping had a lower risk of obesity.

Yet another recent study found indications that an intervention for infants that includes attention to sleep might be effective. Unfortunately, this study’s results were not quite as robust. And the intervention was not focused sharply on sleep. It was a broader approach with sleep as one dimension. Nonetheless, it’s clear that infant sleep patterns are an important risk factor for childhood obesity. In fact, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis found a 40 percent increase in obesity risk for infants with short sleep durations.

The lead author on the latest paper, Rachel Taylor, is naturally quite enthusiastic:

It really does look quite promising in this context, and it should be investigated further. It was a very brief intervention and it has these really quite incredible long-term effects.

Decades into a relentless rise in childhood obesity, we agree with Dr. Taylor. Maybe it’s time to think about alternatives to the same old strategies that have yet to produce noticeable changes. Maybe we’ve been pushing placebos.

Helping babies sleep better – maybe parents too – might be a boon for families.

Click here for the study in AJCN and here for the study in Pediatrics. For more on the relationship between inadequate sleep and obesity for infants, children, and teens, click here.

Sleepy Baby, pastel by Mary Cassatt / WikiArt

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October 16, 2018

2 Responses to “Sleeping Like a Baby to Prevent Obesity”

  1. October 17, 2018 at 4:06 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yup, circadian rhythm and sleep affects the energy regulatory system.


  2. October 20, 2018 at 8:28 pm, Andre said:

    Very helpful and scientific information about sleep. I appreciate your article.