Parents may be worried about lack of exercise or poor nutrition, but new research suggests lifestyle factors such as an irregular sleep routine and skipping breakfast are red flags for childhood obesity.
Mothers who smoke in pregnancy are a third “strong predictor” of kids being overweight, according to a new British study.
University College London scientists say all three early life factors can be easily modified so that kids have low risk of being overweight. They say their findings are the first in the U.K. to link weight and BMI in the first 10 years of kids’ lives to lifestyle factors that could lead to weight gain.
“This study shows that disrupted routines, exemplified by irregular sleep patterns and skipping breakfast, could influence weight gain through increased appetite and the consumption of energy-dense foods. These findings support the need for intervention strategies aimed at multiple spheres of influence on BMI growth,” Dr. Yvonne Kelly, the study’s lead researcher, said.
Kelly’s findings come out of analyzing the health data of more than 19,000 British families between 2000 and 2002. Kids’ weight and height were collected at ages three, five, seven and 11.
The researchers note that their results are observational and don’t point to direct causes.
Smoking in pregnancy was tied to a “higher risk” of kids being overweight. It’s possibly because of a link between fetal alcohol exposure and how it affects a baby’s motor co-ordination.
Not enough sleep and an irregular bedtime have also been tied to overeating or making poor decisions at mealtime the next day – just in adults. Earlier this month, scientists estimated that people who endured a sleepless night end up eating about 385 extra calories.
It’s a bit of a vicious cycle – sleep regulates our appetite because it balances out hormones. If you aren’t sleeping well, your metabolism takes a hit, along with your eating routine.
But keep in mind, parents can alter kids’ sleep routine so there is structure. They can also make sure they’re feeding kids a healthy meal to start their day so they aren’t overeating by lunchtime or after school.
The British study even ruled out what doesn’t play a role in childhood weight gain. Breastfeeding, and an early introduction to solid food weren’t major factors.
Kelly’s full findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.