Parents given help on how to ensure their infants sleep better have children who are less likely to be overweight, according to a New Zealand study out Tuesday.
The University of Otago study involved 802 families who received standard child care, with some families given extra support around food, activity and breast feeding, some given an innovative sleep program, and some given both interventions.
Study co-leaders Professors Barry Taylor and Rachael Taylor were surprised to find that when the children were 2 years old, the extra support around food, activity and breastfeeding did not affect how the children grew.
"However, children in families who received the sleep program were much less likely to be overweight," they said in a statement.
New Zealand parents already had access to significant support and advice on nutrition, activity and breastfeeding, but the study suggested that extra education in these areas did not protect babies from becoming overweight.
"By contrast, the beneficial effects of the POI (prevention of obesity in infancy) sleep intervention on the children's weight were intriguing and quite substantial," they said.
Rachael Taylor said the findings were also surprising because international studies had shown that poor sleep was associated with obesity in children, but the POI sleep intervention was very brief.
"Families in the sleep group had one class before baby was born, and then a personal visit from an expert sleep nurse when their baby was 3 weeks old. Some families requested extra help if their baby still had difficulties sleeping after 6 months of age," she said in the statement.
The intriguing findings suggested that parents and families would benefit from expert advice on their infant's sleep, Barry Taylor said.
"Further work is required to determine whether more intense interventions, particularly in those at higher need, can be even more successful," he said.