For America’s youth, childhood obesity is a huge epidemic that is flooded with risks of developing other diseases. Although the condition is known to lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer, sleep duration may also play a role in determining health risks. A forthcoming study in The Journal of Pediatrics found a lack of sleep in obese children predicts an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

"The strong association between sleep duration and cardiometabolic risk score independent of the effects of body composition and physical activity suggest a potential influence of sleep duration on cardiometabolic health in obese adolescents," said Dr. Heidi B. IglayReger, Laboratory for Physical Activity and Exercise Intervention Research at the University of Michigan Medical School, and author of the study, in the press release. The new study bridges the gap between the association with lack of sleep and health problems in young children — a group that is susceptible to sleep deprivation and obesity. In the U.S., one in three children are considered overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Baylor University sought to explore whether sleep duration impacted the risk of cardiometabolic disease — a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk of heart diabetes, heart disease, and stroke — in a small cohort of obese children. Thirty-seven participants between the ages of 11 and 17 were recruited for the study from the Michigan Pediatric Outpatient Weight Evaluation and Reduction program at the University of Michigan. At baseline, the researchers measured metabolic syndrome characteristics, such as standing height, body mass index (BMI), body composition, waist circumference, seated blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose to create a continuous cardiometabolic risk score.

Afterward, researchers objectively measured physical activity and sleep by implementing the use of a physical activity monitor. The obese children were asked to wear it continuously for seven days, including when they were asleep. Short waking equal to or less than 15 minutes accounted for participants’ total sleep time in the study.

The findings revealed only one-third of the participants met the recommended physical activity of 60 minutes per day, and slept for a total of seven hours per night. Only five, or 14 percent, of the participants in the study met the minimal recommended 8.5 hours of sleep per night. The National Sleep Foundation suggests children between the ages of 10 and 17 should get a total of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. This led the researchers to conclude even after taking physical activity and body composition into account, the total amount of sleep per week is a significant predictor of cardiometabolic risk.

A sleep assessment could be considered as a useful screening tool to identify obese children at risk. The authors wrote the sleep test would be a noninvasive procedure that could benefit patients and doctors alike to effectively treat heart health risks associated with obesity, and in this case, sleep deprivation. IglayReger told Medical News Today she and her colleagues plan to create a “study arm” where optimal sleep will be the primary goal for all of the participants.

"We will track sleep objectively with the same accelerometers utilized within this publication and will stratify primary outcome variables by sleep group," IglayReger said. "We will further consider the actual amount and quality of sleep obtained overall.” "For instance, do adolescents in the sleep group actually sleep more?" she asked. This will allow the team of researchers to determine whether sleep-based interventions can improve obese children’s cardiometabolic profile.

A similar study published in JAMA Pediatrics found children who have televisions in their bedroom are more likely to gain weight compared to those who do not have them in their bedroom. A TV in the bedroom is associated with children’s weight gain well beyond TV viewing time as this could be the result of the unknown effects of TV viewing or a disruption in sleep patterns. Also, the use of electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptop computers, are other methods of media consumption that could contribute to children’s weight gain and a lack of sleep.

These studies stress the importance of preventing childhood obesity. Over the past 30 years, adolescent obesity has quadrupled with the percentage of obese youths between the ages of 12 and 19 going from five percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2012. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says obese children are more likely to suffer from prediabtes, joint problems, sleep apnea, and poor self-esteem, but if they continue to be obese as adults, they can be at risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer, among many other conditions.


Gordon PM, Hassan F, IglayReger HB, et al. Sleep Duration Predicts Cardiometabolic Risk in Obese Adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2014.

Adachi-Mejia AM, Gilbert-Diamond D, Li Z, McClure AC, Sargent JD. Association of a Television in the Bedroom With Increased Adiposity Gain in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children and Adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics. 2014.