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UF researchers to evaluate new sleep treatment program for children who are overweight

Inadequate sleep and weight problems in children are closely linked, with an estimated 60 to 90 percent of children who have shortened or disrupted sleep being at increased risk for obesity.

This fall, researchers at the University of Florida will begin a study examining a non-medication sleep treatment program for 6- to12-year-olds who are overweight. The study is one of the first of its kind to focus on sleep treatment for children who are overweight and their families.

While the association between sleep problems and obesity is not well understood, experts believe the behavioral and physiological changes associated with inadequate sleep are responsible for weight gain. Children who are tired may not have the energy to be physically active, for example, and research has shown that too little sleep can cause the body to produce lower levels of the hormone that regulates appetite.

The UF Pediatric Sleep Study is designed to help children who are overweight and having sleep problems improve their sleep through behavioral strategies rather than medication, medical devices or surgical procedures. Parents and children will participate in individual treatment sessions with a trained sleep therapist to learn how to manage real-life problems and make healthy changes in the child’s sleep patterns. There is no cost to families to participate.

The study is led by David Janicke, Ph.D., a professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and Christina McCrae, Ph.D., a professor and chairwoman of the department of health psychology at the University of Missouri.

“Most parents are probably aware that diet and activity are important for maintaining healthy weight,” Janicke said. “They may also recognize that their child is not getting enough sleep, resists going to bed or is extremely hard to awaken for school. What they may not realize is that poor sleep in childhood may contribute to excess weight and make it harder for children to eat right and be active. Improving sleep in these children may have added benefits in terms of weight loss and an overall healthier lifestyle.”

Results from the study have the potential to not only inform treatment of childhood sleep problems, but also impact prevention and intervention efforts aimed at addressing the broader issue of child obesity, the researchers say.

The Pediatric Sleep Study is available to children between the ages of 6 and 12, and their parents, who live in Alachua County and surrounding areas. To participate, children must have a parent or legal guardian who is willing to attend treatment sessions. The treatment lasts approximately two months and parents and children will be followed for three months after treatment ends to assess the long-term impacts of the treatment. All sessions will be held at UF Health Shands Hospital. Families will be given $5 per treatment session for travel costs, in addition to compensation for completing other measures throughout the study. Screening visits for the study are currently underway, with treatment beginning after eligibility is determined. Families interested in signing up for the program or who have questions should call the Pediatric Sleep Study office toll-free at 866-673-9623. Team members will help parents determine their family’s eligibility.

The study is supported by a grant from the National Lung, Blood and Heart Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number R21HL121432.

About the author

Jill Pease
Communications Director, College of Public Health and Health Professions

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