Long time listeners know that I think good sleep and nutrition are incredibly important issues for a child’s well being. In today’s pedcast, I am going to bring you some really exciting new research that I think you must factor into your parenting if you are going to get these issues right with your little ones. Don’t you dare stop listening because I am about to continue making you one of the best-informed parent in the room.
The Importance of Sleep and Good Nutrition in their Formative Years
I’ve been talking about sleep habits and good nutrition with parents for 37 years in person and now for 8 years on my blog/podcast. I have even done one of my most popular posts on the subject of infant sleep training. It is for that reason, that my eyes almost fell out of my head the other day, when I saw an article about how some simple sleep advise, the kind I have been giving for decades to parents of infants, may be able to drastically reduce the number of children who go on to become obese. Could an infant sleep problem be at the core of the horrible obesity epidemic in the US? Really? I immediately thought, “my blog audience needs to hear about this”. This is a game changer. And if that wasn’t enough, I also saw another game changer article that discovered that the most common age that a child becomes obese is 2-6 years of age. Again my blog audience has to hear about this I thought. So today we’re going to learn about this new information and I am going to give you my perspective on why it’s super vital for you to get a handle on developing good sleep and nutrition habits with your children, starting when your children are infants and preschoolers.
Science Drive-Two Recent (2018) Studies you Should Know About
Okay. Let’s get this pedcast into gear and take a cruise down Science drive. Study 1: I promise it’ll be quick but you need to know a little about this groundbreaking study to understand its importance to your family. The study was done in New Zealand and investigators wanted to look at various advise that doctors give new parents to see if any of the advise might reduce the rate of obesity in the children being studied. The study was fairly large and included a study group of 802 pregnant moms. Like most scientific studies, the large group was divided into subgroups, each getting a different intervention. The investigators looked at advising families regarding nutritious food, the importance of keeping their children active, the importance of breastfeeding, and how to promote healthy sleeping habits in their infants. Their conclusion– the group given sleeping advice had an amazing 50% reduction in the obesity rate compared to the other groups. It appeared that the only useful counseling pediatricians do with regards to obesity prevention was to help families get their children to sleep without a struggle. Remember, all of this advice was presented during well baby and child visits by a pediatrician and most of it was done in the first two years of life.
Now for study number two. This one was much larger, involving 51,000 children and was published in a journal that you’ve probably heard of, The New England Journal of Medicine. These investigators looked at when obese adults we’re likely to develop their obesity. What they found was, that obese adults were most likely to become obese as children, between the ages two years and six years. Said another way, obesity that develops between between 2 to 6 years of age predicts adult obesity 90% of the time! Obese preschoolers almost always become obese adults. There is something about the preschool years that sets obese children up for a life of obesity– attention to weight during the preschool years seems super important.
Conclusions: Early Experiences Set the Course for a Child’s entire Life
So what do I make of all this. Well I think these studies show you that what happens in infancy and the preschool years seem to be very important for a child’s long-term health. It appears that babies who have poor sleep habits in the first two years of life are at a much higher risk of developing obesity than children who have better sleeping habits. Additionally, you can see that rapid weight gain in preschooler children almost certainly seals their fate to become obese as adults. Chubby doesn’t look so cute anymore in preschoolers knowing this, does it?
Early Childhood Determinants of Health Beyond Weight
Lifelong good health seems to be coming down to early childhood. Think about how vital those first few years of life are for your child in the following regards:
Sleep: Good sleep habits in the first two years of life mean in much lower risk of obesity and all of the consequences of obesity.
Weight: Rapid weight gain in preschoolers, presumably from sleep problems, a poor diet and lack of physical activity, also sets up a child for the host of obesity related illnesses during their life.
Cognitive Ability: Less reading for a young child, has been shown to greatly impair their language development and cognitive abilities. We talked about this in other podcasts if you want to check those out.
Overall Mental and Physical Health: Being exposed to violence, drug use, or being treated harshly as a young child has incredibly negative effects on the child’s long-term health during childhood as well during their adult life. The so-called toxic stress. Check out those pedcasts while you are in the archives why don’t you.
So you can see that infancy and the first years of life are an incredibly important time for children to get every advantage possible. As a parent, you need to do everything in your power to provide these advantages for your children:
-Put a priority on and know how to provide and maintain adequate sleep for their children.
– Talk and read to your children frequently, thus stimulating their imaginations, vocabularies, and overall cognitive abilities. Avoiding screens is also important.
-Breast feed and provide the highest-quality complimentary foods they can afford for their children, especially when they are young.
-Minimize your children’s exposure to the toxic effects of ACE factors. For more specifics on that, check the links in my show notes.
Well, that wraps up today’s installment of Portable Practical Pediatrics. If you enjoy the information you get on this podcast, consider taking a moment and rating it on iTunes or other pod catcher. You can also send in comments or questions to my blog, at www.docsmo.com. This is your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E in Charlotte, NC, hoping that your little bubbies, don’t get the chubbies. Until next time.
Many thanks to Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their editorial comments.