CHILDREN who go to bed at the same time every night are less likely to pile on the pounds when they grow up, suggests new research.
Eating meals at regular times and watching less than an hour of telly a day also keeps the weight off, according to the study.
Researchers found a link between the routines of British children, their emotions and their weight.
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, is the first to look at the connections between early childhood routines and self-regulation and their potential association with weight issues in the pre-teen years.
Researchers evaluated three household routines when children were three years old: regular bedtime, regular mealtime and whether or not parents limited television and video watching to an hour or less daily.
They then compared those to parents’ reports of two aspects of children’s self-regulation at that same age.
Finally, they investigated how the routines and self-regulation worked together to impact obesity at the age of 11.
The research included 10,955 children who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study of a diverse group of children born in the UK from September of 2000 to January of 2002.
At three-years-old, 41 per cent of children always had a regular bedtime, 47 per cent always had a regular mealtime and 23 per cent were limited to an hour or less daily of TV and videos. At age 11, about six per cent of the children were obese.
All three household routines were associated with better emotional self-regulation – a measure based on parents’ responses to questions such as how easily the child becomes frustrated or over-excited.
The children with greater emotional dysregulation were more likely to be obese later, according to the study.
Dr Anderson, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Public Health, said: “We saw that children who had the most difficulties with emotion regulation at age three also were more likely to be obese at age 11.”
Dr Anderson and her colleagues also found that the absence of a regular pre-school bedtime was an independent predictor of obesity at age 11.
She said obesity risk increased even when children “usually” had a regular bedtime, as opposed to “always.” The risk was greatest for those who had the least amount of consistency in their bedtimes.
But how persistent and independent children were at age three – another aspect of self-regulation – was not related to obesity risk, nor were routines associated with these aspects of self-regulation.
Dr Anderson added: “This research allows us to better understand how young children’s routines around sleep, meals, and screen time relate to their regulation of emotion and behaviour.
“The large, population-based, UK Millennium Cohort Study afforded the opportunity to examine these aspects of children’s lives and how they impact future risk for obesity.“
She said the research should prompt future work looking at the role of emotional self-regulation in weight gain in children and how bedtime routines can support healthy development.