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Sleeping Less Raises Obesity Risk in Babies

Update Date: Mar 25, 2014 03:48 PM EDT

Short sleep may be responsible for the growing obesity epidemic, according to new research.

A new study reveals that young children who sleep less tend to eat more. Researchers said this is worrying because the findings suggest that lack of sleep can lead to obesity and other related health problems later in life.

Researchers looked at 1303 UK families in the Gemini birth cohort, which recorded sleep data when children were 16 months old and diet data at 21 months old.

The findings revealed that 16-month-old children who slept for less than 10 hours a day consumed on average 10 percent more calories or 105kcal more per day than those who slept for more than 13 hours. Study data revealed that those who slept for more than 13 hours a day ate on average 982kcal, and those who slept for less than 10 hours a day consumed on average 1087kcal per day.

Researchers noted that the latest study is the first to directly link sleep to energy intake in children under the age of three years.

Researchers explain that the link between calorie intake and sleep was observed before differences in weight emerged. Therefore, the findings strongly suggest that energy intake is a key pathway through which sleep contributes to weight gain in early childhood.

While the exact mechanism behind weight gain from lack of sleep is still unclear, researchers believe shorter sleep patterns may impede the body's ability to regulate appetite hormones.

"We know that shorter sleep in early life increases the risk of obesity, so we wanted to understand whether shorter sleeping children consume more calories," Dr. Abi Fisher of the Health Behavior Research Centre at University College London said in a news release.

"Previous studies in adults and older children have shown that sleep loss causes people to eat more, but in early life parents make most of the decisions about when and how much their children eat, so young children cannot be assumed to show the same patterns," he added. "The key message here is that shorter sleeping children may prone to consume too many calories."

"Although more research is needed to understand why this might be, it is something parents should be made aware of," Fisher concluded.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Obesity.

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