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Skipping breakfast and not enough sleep can lead to childhood obesity

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In an effort to curb obesity in children, researchers from University College London took a look at possible risk factors and whether early intervention might help.  

The team identified the following predictors of possible obesity in children:

  • Mothers smoking in pregnancy
  • Children skipping breakfast
  • Children not having a regular bedtime or getting sufficient sleep

The research shows that prompt intervention in these modifiable factors could help curb dangerous childhood weight gain.

The paper — which was published in U.S. journal Pediatrics — is the first research in the United Kingdom to look at the patterns of body mass index in the first 10 years of a child's life and to examine the lifestyle factors that appear to predict weight gain.

The research is based on the Millennium Cohort Study, a study of children born into 19,244 families in the U.K. between September 2000 and January 2002. Data on weight and height was collected when the children were 3, 5, 7 and 11.

"It is well known that children of overweight or obese mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves, probably reflecting the 'obesogenic' environment and perhaps a genetic predisposition to gain weight," said Professor Yvonne Kelly, who led the research. "This study shows that disrupted routines, exemplified by irregular sleeping 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."

Smoking in pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of a child being overweight, possibly due to a link between fetal tobacco exposure and infant motor coordination, which could be a developmental pathway to BMI growth.

The study identified four patterns of weight development. The large majority of children, 83.3%, had a stable non-overweight BMI, while 13.1% had moderate increasing BMIs while 2.5% had steeply increasing BMIs. The smallest group — 0.6% — had BMIs in the obese range at the age of 3, but were similar to the stable group by the age of 7.

The research also looked at other factors to see what influence, if any, they had on children's weight.

After taking account of background factors, breastfeeding and the early introduction of solid food were not associated with children's weight. Likewise, sugary drink consumption, fruit intake, TV viewing and sports participation were not strong predictors of unhealthy weight gain.

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