Children who adopt a daily routine will have improved emotional health and will be less likely to be obese, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that the risk of obesity was lower when preschoolers had adequate sleep, ate meals with their families, and spent less time online.
The habits of almost 11,000 British children aged 11 were studied by Ohio State University. The study, first published in the International Journal of Obesity, looked at the relationship between a child’s daily routines and their emotions and weight.
At the age of three, 41 per cent of children always had a regular bedtime; 47 per cent had regular mealtimes; and only around a quarter (23 per cent) were restricted to viewing no more than one hour of TV a day. At age 11, six per cent of children were obese.
What the study found, was that preschoolers with better self-regulated emotional health – which is fostered by regular bedtimes, regular meals and limited screen time – appear to have better emotional and physical health outcomes, later. Children with greater emotional dysregulation were more likely to be obese later in life.
They found that young children with an inconsistent bedtime were almost twice as likely to be obese by the age of 11 as those with a regular bedtime. Obesity was more common in families with lower educational level, and lower household income.
"Sleep is so important, and it's important for children in particular. Although there is much that remains unknown about how sleep impacts metabolism, research is increasingly finding connections between obesity and poor sleep," said Sarah Anderson, a professor at Ohio State's College of Public Health, in collaboration with University College London and Temple University in Philadelphia.
The NHS says the study doesn't give a complete picture of the link between sleep and weight: “This doesn't definitively prove an irregular bedtime directly causes obesity by itself. It could be that children with irregular bedtimes are more likely to have a less healthy lifestyle overall. For example, they may have a poorer diet and exercise less – neither of which was measured in this study.”
They continue: "Overall, this supports understanding that it can be helpful for young children to have regular routines. But this study provides no proof that if a child doesn't have a regular bedtime, this will directly increase their risk of later obesity."
The study is part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), which in 2000-2002 recruited 19,244 families with a baby aged nine months in the household. The children were assessed at ages three, five, seven and 11 years of age with a questionnaire on their sleeping habits.