Sleep Duration a Factor in Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past three decades, which is why any study that sheds light on why this is happening is a godsend to worried parents. Science Daily, at least, has told us why children in China are obese: it’s because they go to bed late and have a shorter sleep duration. It’s a start.

So here’s the deal: scientists from the University of Birmingham in the UK found that kids in China who go to bed at a later hour and sleep fewer hours, have a tendency to be more overweight. Perhaps more interesting: even if the kids get enough sleep, later bedtimes mean they have a greater risk of obesity.

Researchers looked into the sleeping habits of 2,795 children, aged 9-12, from Guangzhou, in southern China. They found a connection between the length of sleep duration and percentage of body fat.

It turns out that Chinese children sleep even less than kids in the United States and Europe. Which is saying something, since schools in the U.S. are trending toward later school start times, because the problem of children not getting enough sleep is so prevalent. It seems that in the case of the Chinese children, however, the difference is because of the stronger focus on learning and academic achievement in China as compared to the U.S. and Europe.

The study, funded by Guangzhou Medical Foundation, had Birmingham scientists working in tandem with Chinese researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University and Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The upshot of their work? Kids who sleep longer, have lower Body Mass Index (BMI) scores, compared to those getting less sleep. For every one hour that sleep is put off, the BMI score increases a little bit more.

Don’t scoff at a slight increase in a BMI score. There is definite evidence that even a slight change to a BMI score matters. Such increases are considered clinically important and linked to significant changes in health status.

This study adds to the body of evidence that getting enough decent quality sleep is important for a healthy body. Sleep duration, meantime, has been on a steady decline among children and adolescents.

Sleep Duration Obesity Risk Factor

The results of this particular study were published the Journal of Epidemiology. Professor Peymané Adab, Professor of Chronic Disease Epidemiology & Public Health at the University of Birmingham commented on the study’s implications: “This study contributes to existing evidence for sleep duration as a risk factor for obesity in childhood, and later bedtime as an additional risk factor—regardless of sleep duration.

“Children in this study were getting less sleep than reported for children of similar ages in Western countries, plus their usual bedtime was relatively later than expected. These differences are likely to be cultural and due to the overemphasis on studying and academic achievement in China.”

Prof. Adab added that there are behaviors other than sleep patterns that can put children at risk for obesity, including watching television while snacking. Adab says such behavior is more common in the late evening. The researcher also suggested that children can have sleep-wake abnormalities that cause them to go to bed later.

Professor Yajun Chen, from the School of Public Health at Sun Yat-Sen University, in Guangzhou said, “There are complex factors contributing to childhood obesity including biological and lifestyle factors, but increasing observational research reports that shorter sleep duration may be an additional risk factor associated with higher body mass index (BMI) among children.”

Is your child overweight?

What time does your child go to sleep?

Sugar Harms A Child’s Metabolism Says New Study

Sugar Harms A Child's Metabolism Says New StudySugar has long been thought to be bad for children. The sweet substance has been accused of causing tooth decay, diabetes, childhood obesity, and ADHD among other conditions, and in saying so, we’re just getting started. In spite of accusations equating sugar with the devil, some experts continued to insist that the number of calories was more important than the type of calories consumed. Now, a new study appears to burst that dream bubble wide open, declaring once and for all that sugar is really bad and harmful stuff, in and of itself. It, sugar, harms the metabolism.

Which begs the question: if you knew for a fact that sugar was outright harmful to your child’s health, would you give him the occasional candy or sugary treat, nonetheless?

While you’re pondering your answer, let’s take a look at this new study in which researchers took kids off sugar and fructose, substituting starchy foods instead, to see what would happen. In other words, the kids ate the same amount of calories they always did, but none of those calories came from sugar. Now these weren’t just any kids, but children who had metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that tend to occur at the same time: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and fat around the middle (belly fat). Metabolic syndrome, as you might guess, increases the risk for several health issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Kids didn’t used to get fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, but today, with childhood obesity on the rise, doctors are seeing children with these diseases, too. The study authors wanted to see if taking kids with metabolic syndrome off sugar might improve their overall health. What they found was that within 10 days of going off sugar, there was a dramatic improvement in the health of these children. And the kids didn’t even eat fewer calories or lose weight. The only thing they did was eat other calories instead of calories from sugar.

The study was a small one, but pretty darned impressive nonetheless. Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and from Touro University Calfornia studied 43 children aged 9-18. All of the children were obese and had at least one other sign of a metabolic disorder, for instance high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, or a marker for fatty liver.

The children were provided with nine days’ worth of food, including snacks and drinks, but without the usual sugar. Instead, the researchers gave the children enough starchy foods  to maintain the same levels of fat, protein, carbohydrates and calories that the children were used to consuming. The kids got foods like bagels, pasta, and plainer cereals instead of their usual high-sugar cereals, cookies and sugar-sweetened yogurt. The number of calories was the same, but sugar was cut from 28% to 10% while fructose (a form of fruit sugar) got cut from 12% to 4% of all calories consumed.

Now note that this didn’t mean the children felt deprived. They were purposely given food thought of as “kid food,” for instance potato chips, pizza, and hot dogs. Things their parents might buy for them at the local supermarket.

The researchers weren’t looking for weight loss with this sort of diet. In fact, if the kids began to lose weight, the researchers upped their food intake. That’s why the researchers gave the kids scales to weigh themselves each day, so they could add calories if the kids started losing weight. The whole purpose was to see what sugar, not calories, does to kids.

According to Jean-Marc Schwartz, PhD, of Touro’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and senior author of the study, some of the kids actually complained that this diet felt like too much food for them. “When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety cues,” said Schwarz. “They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar. Some said we were overwhelming them with food.”

Lose The Sugar: Feel Fuller Sooner

In other words, take out the sugar, and kids feel fuller, sooner. That means that children who don’t eat sugar will eat less and lose weight. But in this study, the children were made to eat the same number of calories, and pretty much prevented from losing weight. In addition to feeling fuller, sooner, was there an improvement in their health?

You bet your sweet bippy. After nine days of this virtually sugar-free diet, every measure of health appeared to improve, with no change in weight of course, since this was prevented by design. Blood pressure went down (diastolic blood pressure decreased 5mm), triglycerides went down (33 points!), LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) went down by 10 points, and liver function tests showed marked improvement. Fasting blood sugar test results were down by 5 points and the kicker? Insulin levels were cut by one third.

“Sugar Calories Are The Worst”

“All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health got better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food—all without changing calories or weight or exercise,” said Robert Lustig MD, MSL, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and lead author of this study. “This study demonstrates that ‘a calorie is not a calorie.’ Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease. This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and health care costs.”

Most parents choose to see sugar as something that can be eaten in moderation. For instance, it’s okay to have a piece of occasional candy, if the diet is otherwise healthy. Should the results of this study change this way of thinking?

Sugar Harms A Child’s Metabolism

Listening to Lustig, one might think so, “This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it’s sugar. This internally controlled intervention study is a solid indication that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome, and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity.”

Schwarz adds that, “I have never seen results as striking or significant in our human studies; after only nine days of fructose restriction, the results are dramatic and consistent from subject to subject. These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects of what their children are consuming.”

Kids love sweet foods, even crave them. But if your child has a weight problem, cutting down the amount of sugar your child eats, would seem to be a no-brainer. The study was definitely a small one, and it would be nice to see a larger study. Even so, the results are pretty persuasive.

Do you let your child eat sugary foods in moderation? Did reading about this study change the way you think about sugar and your child’s diet?

I Hate School Lunches (She Said)

thanks michelle obama Large“I hate school lunches,” she said, as she came through the front door. “I HATE school lunches,” she said a bit louder this time, making sure her mother knew she’d come home from school. Slamming her school books and other random stuff on the dining room table, she headed into the kitchen.

There you were, fixing dinner. “I hate school lunches,” she said and opening the fridge, she began pulling objects off the shelf. Leftover pasta, a slab of cheesecake, anything. “Oh my God,” she said, cramming the food into her mouth as fast as could, while you despaired, knowing she’d fill up now and not eat the dinner you’re cooking right now. “I’m starving. And by the way, I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.”

Sound familiar? If so, you’re part of a nationwide movement of kids refusing to eat school lunches. Now hatred of school lunches has always been the stuff of legends. After all, school lunches are institutional food. It’s never going to be the sort of fare you’d find at a 5-star restaurant.

Fuel On The Fire?

Something has, however, changed of late with school lunches, so that the “I hate school lunches movement” has had some fuel thrown on its fire. Some say that it’s just the same old hatred repackaged and now directed unfairly toward Michelle Obama. It is true that Mrs. Obama is responsible for creating the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which has changed the way children are eating in schools across America.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was created to tackle two serious problems: childhood obesity and hunger. Childhood obesity is causing all sorts of health problems. Hungry kids can’t do their schoolwork, and won’t get ahead in life. In part, the idea of the act was to at least make sure that hungry children from low-income homes get at least one meal a day. Also, the act would add nutritional value to meals and help train children to prefer more nutritious foods.

Some say that changes made to the National School Lunch Program have made school lunches unappealing and created waste, while putting food services in the red. Others would quote studies that say just the opposite and want to give the program a chance.

“I Hate School Lunches” Isn’t New

Meantime, the cry “I hate school lunches” is heard from California to the New York Island and in all the places in between. But hasn’t that always been the way? It would be the strange child indeed who yearns to eat institutional food.

Let’s examine both sides of the issue.

The number of obese children has risen more than 2 percentage points since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed. But that doesn’t mean that the program is a failure. Children don’t only eat at school, and sometimes things get worse before they get better. It may take more time to discover whether or not the act will lower the rate of childhood obesity.

One small study suggested that school lunch waste, or food thrown away uneaten, has risen by a whopping 56% since 2012, when the act went into effect. This study was based on before and after photographs of lunch trays in two elementary schools. The act requires kids to choose fruits and vegetables. This study said that children are putting these items on their trays, but pitching them into the garbage uneaten.

Fruit? Feh

A larger study performed by Harvard University found the opposite to be true: kids are eating more fruits and vegetables since the new lunch standards were adopted. And that means less waste, not more. Before the USDA school meal standards were changed, kids threw out 75% of their vegetables. After the changes, kids are discarding 60% of their school lunch vegetables. As for fruit, kids threw out 40% of the fruit before the changes went into effect and they’re still throwing away 40% of their fruit, now.

In other words, kids are eating more vegetables, but not more fruit, and there’s room for improvement. But it’s a start. And it tells us that food choices and food preparation must improve.

Another study by the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found no increase in waste after the new guidelines were put in place. Here, kids had to choose a fruit or vegetable in order for the meal to count as a reimbursable meal. The researchers found that even so, kids were eating the same amount of food as before the changes took effect. In other words, these kids weren’t throwing out their fruit. They were eating it.

Beans, Beans, Go Away

That study did find that there was one particular food that kids were throwing away uneaten, and that was legumes, for instance beans, peas, and lentils. The children in this study were from eight elementary schools in southeast Texas, and were students in kindergarten through the 5th grade.

So there are two sides to this story. On the one hand, some kids are throwing away their school lunches and buying junk instead. But some kids have always done that.

Since, however, they can no longer get that junk food in school vending machines (under the rules of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act), they go off school grounds and buy it elsewhere. Or starve, come home famished and declare, “I hate school lunches.”

And maybe that’s one downside of these school lunch changes.

Rich Kids Buy Junk

On the one hand, starving kids aren’t going to do well in their classes. So the act means that more children from lower income homes will be fed at least one healthy meal a day: their school lunch. On the other hand, kids from the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, have money to buy junk food off-campus and are also being fed at home. And that is why some schools serving more privileged students have opted out of the National School Lunch Program.

Now that’s not a small decision. Opting out of the National School Lunch Program means opting out of the federal money that comes with that program. In Bozeman, Montana, for instance, that means giving up  $117,000 in food subsidies.

Bob Burrows, director of food services in Bozeman reported to the school board that since opting out of the program, school lunch “traffic is way up.” That’s good, because last year, the food service budget ended the school year $16,000 in the red. Sales are back up, because the service is now preparing food kids actually like, instead of offering them the prepackaged government meals.

It’s not only Bozeman, mind you. It’s happened in Denver, too. Denver’s Douglas County School District dropped out of the program a year ago. In fact, 70% of all school programs have taken a huge financial hit since the new rules went into effect and this has made a bunch of school districts drop out of the program altogether.

A Better World

That’s a shame. Because in a better world, offering children meals that are lower in sodium and fat and higher in good things like fiber and vitamins, would be a welcome gift.

But you know. School lunches. Institutional food.

It’s going to suck. Big time.

And kids are kids. So they’re going to blame someone, right? Even though the school lunch is historically disgusting.


So, to make a long story short, all this is why kids are tweeting pix and videos with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. It’s like a competition to see who can photograph the worst looking food. And with these photos, they all pretty much win.

Some of this food is truly dreadful looking and these pix represent the worst of the worst. Seeing them will make you glad you are a grown up and no longer need to eat that stuff. But we leave it to you to decide whether the food depicted in these tweets is really so much worse than what you were forced to eat before Michelle Obama did her bit for our children’s health and welfare.

Tell us what you think in the comments section, below.

Um yeah. I can kind of see why a kid would look at that and say, “I hate school lunches.”


“I hate school lunches.” Uh huh. Has a ring to it.


I’m beginning to get the point. They hate school lunches.


It appears kids really don’t like this stuff. Who’d a thunk it?

It’s what’s for lunch.


“I hate school lunches.” Okay, okay. We hear you. No need to scream.

“But I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.” Um yeah. We’re getting that.



So, lemme get this straight? You don’t like the food at your school?



Ouch. I need eye bleach.




This is like a bad dream. When do we get to wake up?


Childhood Obesity in the Land of Supersize Me

Childhood obesity in the Land of Supersize Me, also known as the United States, should surprise no one. You only need a pair of working eyes to see kids getting chubbier (their parents, too). Still, the statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can make you suck in your breath every bit as much as those size 12 jeans.


Fact #1

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and has risen four times in adolescents over the past 3 decades.

Fact #2

In 1980, 7% of children in the U.S. age 6-11 were obese. In 2012, 18% of U.S. children were obese.

Fact #3

Of U.S. adolescents age 12-19, 5% were obese in 1980 and that figure rose to 21% by 2012.

Fact #4

In 2012, over one-third of children and adolescents were found to be either overweight or obese.

Part of the problem is that kids no longer use their bodies for play. They’re digital natives. They use devices. Maybe their FINGERS are slim, but their bodies aren’t getting any exercise whatsoever. Not to mention that using devices generally requires one hand only. The other hand can be, um, gainfully employed in shoving snack food into one’s mouth.

The combination of no exercise and a surplus of snack food translate to overweight or obese children. Not to mention our culture in which large portions are considered a virtue. Think about what happens when you order a supersized portion. Most of us don’t like to waste food, so even if our bodies are sending our brains signals of satiation, if we see there’s still food remaining on our plates, we try our best to finish up. The result is overeating, which again, leads to packing on the pounds.

Is your child overweight or obese?

Not sure what’s the difference? Here’s the deal:

Overweight means having too much body weight for one’s height. The excess weight may be from fat, muscle, bone, water, or any combination of these elements.

Obesity is excess body fat.

In either case, both overweight and obesity result from “caloric imbalance” or when more calories are taken in (through eating) than are expended (through activity). That is the simple explanation for something that can be complicated by a variety of factors (genetic, behavioral, and environmental).

Overweight and obesity are a vicious cycle for children. In the past, peer pressure might have led to a greater desire to refrain from overeating. Kids would be teased for being overweight. But now, with one in three children overweight or obese, it’s easy enough to fit in whether one is chunky or slim. Today, excess weight more likely goes unremarked by friends.


That’s a major headache for parents, the lack of peer pressure, because without peer pressure, what incentive do children have to lose weight? Adults understand that health is a gift and that overweight and obesity in children can lead to long-term ill health effects. Kids, on the other hand, think only of the present. If they feel good, they don’t think about how extra poundage will harm them later. And while 70% of obese children were found to have a minimum of one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, that’s meaningless to a child who feels just fine.

Meantime, in addition to risking cardiovascular disease as a result of such factors as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, obese teens also tend toward pre-diabetes in which blood sugar is high enough to presage the later development of diabetes. The extra weight also puts a strain on bones and joints and may leave to aches and pains, not to mention actual deterioration of these crucial body parts.

Then too, overweight young people are more likely to become overweight adults. The health risks at this point are undeniable and include stroke, heart disease, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, and many types of cancer. One research trial found that children who were already obese at the age of 2 were at greater risk for being obese as adults. Overweight and obesity are associated with a heightened risk for such cancers as cancer of the colon, breast, esophagus, endometrium, pancreas, kidney, thyroid, gallbladder, cervix, ovary, and prostate as well as for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.


What Can Parents Do?

  • Make it a priority to educate your child about nutrition
  • Ban high-fat and high-sugar treats
  • Make exercise a family value
  • Take vacations that include hiking and other physical activities
  • Limit time on electronic devices or make it tit for tat: 30 minutes of computer time is earned through 30 minutes of exercise
  • Organize your community and create a walking school bus in which kids walk to school instead of riding the bus
  • Enroll your child in a Zumba class
  • Take walks as a family
  • Aim for a nutrition-dense diet in which only foods that have high nutrition levels are purchased and consumed
  • Put out a bowl of fresh fruit or a tray of crudités (raw veggies) for snacking