Sleep + Play = Healthy Kids

Sleep and physical activity important for childrens health

(RxWiki News) It's the complaint of many parents today - their kids spend far too much time in front of computer or TV screens, often far into the night which also cuts into important sleep time.

A European Union funded project presents new guidelines to help parents maintain enough sleep and encourage physical play, which has been found to have significant impact on combating obesity and promoting overall health in children.

"Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep and active play."

The EU project, Identification and prevention of lifestyle- and Diet-induced health EFfects In Children and infantS (IDEFICS), was a very large five-year study that gathered survey information on a huge cross-sectional population of more than 16,000 children in eight European countries.

The kids, all between two and nine years of age, and their parents provided information about their lifestyle, diet, social, physical and genetic factors. Researchers provided targeted intervention during the course of the study, and a follow-up survey to assess the impact of dietary and lifestyle changes on body weight and other health parameters.

Professor Wolfgang Ahrens, who coordinates IDEFICS, and his team found, unsurprisingly, that the more sedentary time children spend in front of screens, the higher their body weight; but also discovered that getting enough sleep helps children maintain a healthy weight.

IDEFICS suggests the following guidelines to combat childhood obesity and help maintain health in children:

Get Adequate Sleep
Children sleeping less than 9 hours a night were twice as likely to be overweight compared to children sleeping 11 hours, and children sleeping 9-10 hours had a 1.3-fold higher chance. Amount of sleep was not influenced by season, daylight duration, parental education level, other lifestyle factors, or whether the child was already overweight.

Limit TV and Computer Time
Television viewing was most related to higher weight. Children’s waist circumference also increased with the time spent in sedentary behaviour in general.

Avoid Eating in front of Screens
Almost half of the children sometimes or often watch TV during meals, and the link between eating and screen time is particularly concerning.

Promote a Healthy Environment
Children who are active in their leisure time, have lower screen time and are more likely to eat healthily. Researchers encourage caretakers, policy makers and urban planners to ensure enough green play spaces and playgrounds.

"It’s not right to blame just the parents if their children are overweight," says Ahrens. "It’s time to fully acknowledge the environmental impact on health behaviour. The more effectively policy makers, teachers, caretakers and parents work together in creating a healthy environment, the easier it will be for children to learn healthy living.”

The findings were presented at the 11th European Nutrition Conference in October 2011, ahead of the IDEFICS final meeting mid November in Bremen. 

Review Date: 
November 17, 2011