Poor Sleep in Babies Linked to Higher Risk for Obesity

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that newborns, who learn to fall asleep by themselves, have about half the risk of developing obesity when they’re older. 

Poor Sleep in Babies Linked to Higher Risk for Obesity

Newborns whose parents received advice and hands-on education about sleep had about half the risk of developing obesity by ages 3½ and 5, compared with children whose parents didn’t get the sleep instruction, the study says.

“It really does look quite promising in this context, and it should be investigated further because it was a very brief intervention and it has these really quite incredible long-term effects,” says Rachael W. Taylor, director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and first author on the study. The results are similar to those in a Pennsylvania study published in JAMA medical journal in August, which focused on education for new parents that included sleep as one component. 

Poor Sleep in Babies Linked to Higher Risk for Obesity

In the New Zealand study, the researchers recruited about 800 women in the later stages of pregnancy and divided them into four groups. In one group, expectant parents attended education sessions on strategies to help babies fall asleep on their own, with nurses making home visits three weeks after the babies were born. The families were offered more help at 6 months of age but only about a quarter said they needed it. 

The second group of parents received education on baby food nutrition and physical activity – but not sleep – before the babies were born and until they were 18 months old. For the third group nurses offered education on both sleep and nutrition. And the fourth group, the control group, received no intervention in addition to government health visits that are standard in New Zealand. 

The result: By the ages of 2 and 3½, the babies whose parents had the sleep instruction either alone or in combination with baby food nutrition education had half the risk of obesity as the other groups. By age 5, the effect was slightly stronger. 

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