Skipping breakfast and irregular sleep patterns have been identified as key reasons children may become dangerously overweight in research that sheds new light on the obesity epidemic.  Particularly among Black children, lifestyle factors and the environment in which the child lives play significant roles in their becoming overweight or obese.

The study, led by academics from University College London, found that the belief childhood obesity develops largely from overeating, was an oversimplification that ignored the child’s overall environment. Of the 19,244 families studied from September 2000 to January 2002, disrupted routines, including skipping meals and irregular sleeping patterns, influenced weight gain among children.

Lifestyle factors, such as lack of regular exercise, may contribute to childhood obesity. (Courtesy photo)

Lifestyle factors, such as lack of regular exercise, may contribute to childhood obesity. (Courtesy photo)

“We have long drawn attention to the importance of early intervention in tackling childhood, and indeed adult, obesity. The earlier the action, the higher the chance of preventing obesity taking a hold and adversely affecting life-long health,” Yvonne Kelly, lead researcher of the study said in her conclusion. “Disrupted routines, exemplified by irregular sleeping patterns and skipping breakfast, could influence weight gain through increased appetite and the consumption of energy-dense foods.”

Evidence shows that breakfast consumption reduces weight gain by improving satiety and decreasing binge eating later in the day. High-fiber cereals and whole-grain products improve satiety and decrease binge eating at lunch or after school.

Terrie Shriver, a Ward 8 resident and mother of 3 said she had no idea that routine bedtimes and breakfast on the run could drive her children into obesity and poor health.

“Sometimes the kids don’t want to go to bed and I have usually had a rule that so long as they get up the next morning and get moving to school, there was no problem,” Shriver told the AFRO.  “But the later they stayed up, the more likely we’d be running late the next morning and their breakfast would be a doughnut and milk from Dunkin Donuts or a cold PopTart in the back of the car.”

Shriver is not uncommon.  In fact, the study found that 83.3 percent of children had a stable, non-overweight body mass index, almost one in seven, or 13.1 percent and who are more likely to be girls than boys, had a moderately increasing BMI, while 2.5 percent had a steeply increasing BMI.  Black children were more likely to be among the latter group.

“I read somewhere that one of the reasons it’s so hard to know when our kids are getting insufficient sleep is that drowsy children don’t necessarily slow down the way adults do and that even their sleepiness can look like symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” retired daycare provider Millicent McCormick told the AFRO.  “It’s important for parents to set guidelines early and make them stick because staying up late and rushing to eat the next morning, sets a child up for a lifetime of chronic conditions in addition to the obesity issues.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends school-aged children six and 13 years-old, get between nine and eleven hours of sleep each night; teens require between eight and ten hours.