Sleep, Breakfast, and Smoking – How they Effect a Child’s Weight

New research out of University College London has found that a combination of erratic bedtimes, skipping breakfast, and mothers smoking during pregnancy may be core factors in childhood obesity.

All three components can be modified, scientists note, and this new research shows that quick intervention could seriously affect the growing problem of childhood obesity and above-average weight gain.

This research was published in Pediatrics, a US journal, and is the first research out of Britain that looks at lifestyle factors that may be predicting weight gain while focusing on patterns of weight development through body mass index (BMI) in the first 10 years of life.

Studies in the past have found that children who are overweight or obese also have poorer mental health, which can seep into adolescence and adulthood if not addressed.  Psychosocial elements of well-being addressed in these studies are looking at self-esteem, general happiness, and risky behaviors like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

The basis of this research came from the Millennium Cohort Study, which collected weight and height data on children born into over 19,000 British families between September 2000 and January of 2002.  Data were collected when the children were aged 3, 5, 7, and 11.

Unfortunately, no firm cause and effect conclusions could be drawn in this research because information gathered was observational.  However, it is notable that there were thousands of children who were studied, so scientists were able to identify and take into account several influences that play a part in a child’s weight.

Professor Yvonne Kelly of UCL Epidemiology and Public Health noted that there may be a genetic predisposition of weight gain in children of overweight or obese mothers.  What the information in this study has suggested is that disrupted routines like skipping breakfast on busy mornings and erratic sleeping patterns could be influencing weight gain because of higher appetite and higher consumption of junk foods.  This emphasizes the need for early interventions aimed at all the different components that affect BMI.

Further, in this study analysis, it was noted that smoking during pregnancy was linked to higher risk of childhood obesity or above-average weight gain.  This could be due to the link between infant motor coordination and fetal tobacco exposure and is indicative of BMI growth development.

Four patterns of weight gain and development were identified in this study.  Most of the children, 83.3%, had stable average BMI, but 13.1% had regularly increasing BMI.  About 2.5% had steep BMI increases.  The smallest group of children, making up 0.6%, had obese range BMI at 3 years of age, but then they evened out and became similar to the 7-year-old group.

Girls made up the majority of the moderately increasing BMI group.  Black Caribbean, Black African, and Pakistani children were more likely to be in the high increasing BMI group.

A number of factors were taken into account to determine if they played a part in the child’s weight.  They looked at background like breastfeeding and the introduction of solid foods.  Additionally, consumption of sugary drinks and fruits were noted, as well as TV time and participation in sports.  All of these factors seemed to be strong predictors of weight gain.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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