The higher the amount of trans fat and processed carbohydrates one consumes, the higher is his or her chances of becoming obese, not to mention, acquiring illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, among others. However, the opposite could be said for the correlation between sleep duration and obesity as, according to a recent study, the lesser the number of hours a child spends sleeping, the higher are the odds that he or she will become obese at a later age.

The study, which was published in The Journal of Pediatrics, revealed that children 5 to 6 years old with the lowest amount of sleep had 60 - 100 per cent risk of being obese at age 15. Obesity was also observed by the researchers in children with sleep-related breathing problems such as snoring and sleep apnea.

Study author Karen Bonuck, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York said the research was aimed at tracking the influence sleep duration and sleep disorder have on weight gain among children.

Bonuck and her team evaluated 1,899 children from birth to age 7 years to determine the effects of sleep duration and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) such as snoring, mouth-breathing and sleep apnea. The participants were divided into five (5) groups based on occurrence of SBD: asymptomatic (no symptoms), peak at six months, peak at 18 months, worst case (peak at 30 - 40 months), and late symptom (modest symptoms appearing at 42 months and remain high).

The result of their analysis found that as compared with the asymptomatic group, the worst case group were 100 per cent more likely to become obese by the ages 7, 10, and 15. Meanwhile, those categorized under late symptom showed an 80 per cent increased risk for obesity at age 7 years and a 60 per cent increased risk at age 15 years.

As for the relation between sleep duration and obesity, the researchers found that children with chronic lack of sleep at age 4 to 6 were more likely to be obese at age 15. Participants with the longest sleep duration at age 2 to 3 were least likely to gain excess weight, based on the study.

This goes to show that length and quality of sleep among children, and even adults, play a central role in their overall health, especially since obesity has been linked to so many diseases later in life such as diabetes, heart diseases, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and gallbladder disease, among others.

While in adulthood, there are still other factors that contribute to one being at risk for obesity such as genes, lifestyle, inactivity, (smoking) habits and medication; the study provides for early corrective measures that parents could consider to prevent their children from becoming obese as they grow up.

"We know that the road to obesity often begins early in life," Bonuck said. "Our research strengthens the case that insufficient sleep and SDB - especially when present early in childhood - increase the risk for becoming obese later in childhood. If impaired sleep in childhood is conclusively shown to cause future obesity, it may be vital for parents and physicians to identify sleep problems early, so that corrective action can be taken and obesity prevented. With childhood obesity hovering at 17 per cent in the United States, we're hopeful that efforts to address both of these risk factors could have a tremendous public health impact," she added.

With radical shifts in lifestyle among children, probably brought about by technology and social trends-children getting too busy in social media sites, or with online or smart phone games-sleep has become an undervalued and taken-for-granted health tool, by the younger generation.

With the study, American parents may want to consider encouraging their children to sleep early for eight to nine hours. While for those with children with SBD, parents may want to seek medical advice to treat such disorder at the earliest possible time.

The wonders of quality sleep do not only contribute to better health but to good mental and psychological functioning as well, don't you think?