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Early Bedtime for Preschoolers Could Cut Obesity Risk by Half

A new study suggests putting preschoolers to bed before 8 p.m. can reduce the risk of obesity later on.

Putting your preschoolers in bed by 8:00 p.m. could halve their chances of becoming obese later in life, according to a new study.

Writing in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from the Ohio State University College of Public Health say bedtimes after 9:00 p.m. appear to double the risk of obesity.

“For parents, this reinforces the importance of establishing a bedtime routine,” said Sarah Anderson, lead author and associate professor of epidemiology.

“It’s something concrete that families can do to lower their child’s risk and it’s also likely to have positive benefits on behavior and on social, emotional and cognitive development.”

Excess weight among children in the United States is on the rise and a major health concern, with around 17 percent of children and adolescents, 12.7 million, considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the study, researchers used data from 977 children who are part of the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development project that follows healthy babies born in 1991 in 10 U.S. cities.

These children, who were 4 ½ years old at the time, were divided into three groups, those who went to bed by 8:00 p.m. or earlier, those who went to bed between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and those whose bedtimes were after 9:00 p.m.

When these children turned 15, the researchers looked at the rates of obesity.

For those with the earliest bedtimes, only one out of 10 was obese, compared to 16 percent of those who went to bed between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and 23 percent for those with the latest bedtimes.

Half of the children went to bed between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., researchers said, while the rest were evenly divided between early and late bedtimes.

Anderson said putting children in bed early doesn’t mean they will immediately fall asleep, but that it makes it “more likely that children will get the amount of sleep they need to be at their best.

“It’s important to recognize that having an early bedtime may be more challenging for some families than for others,” Anderson said. “Families have many competing demands and there are tradeoffs that get made. For example, if you work late, that can push bedtimes later in the evening.”