According to a study out of John’s Hopkins University, how much sleep your children get could be a contributing factor to childhood obesity, The study, published in the journal, Obesity, found that each additional hour of sleep decreases a child’s risk for obesity by 9%, indicating a clear association between the duration of sleep and the risk of becoming overweight.

Researchers analyzed numerous published studies that linked sleep duration to obesity and found that children who slept for the shortest duration had a 92% higher risk for being overweight or obese. Short sleep durations were defined as 9 hours or less for children under 5, less than 8 hours for children between 5 and 10 years of age, and less than 7 hours for children over 10 years old. The strongest association between getting enough sleep and reducing their risk for obesity was more strongly associated with boys than with girls.

Though standards differ across cultures, there are certain broad guidelines for optimal quantities of sleep. According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children between the ages of 3 and 5 years should get 11-13 hours or sleep, children between 9 and 11 years should get 9-11 hours of sleep, and adolescents need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep.

The CDC indicates that inadequate amounts of sleep predispose us to a number of negative health consequences, including such conditions as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity. Furthermore, lack of sleep can aggravate these situations by complicating their management and outcome. With this in mind, ensuring proper sleep habits might be a simple, straightforward, and cost effective way to help avoid certain chronic conditions, including obesity.

The take home message in all this is that sleep is important, especially in growing children. Kids who get enough are less prone to moodiness and behavioral problems, and in children and adults, sleep is essential for optimal mental performance, including alertness and memory. This may be relevant in places where sleep often takes a backseat to academic performance, particularly in countries in Asia where there is immense pressure to succeed and obesity rates in children are on the rise.

Obesity is the leading preventable cause of death in the world, and is viewed by the medical establishment as the one of the most significant public health concerns in the 21st century. Though it was at one time viewed as a symbol of wealth, today obesity is not only a threat to our health, but it can significantly diminish our quality of life and lead to stigmatization and social isolation.

For more information about sleep and obesity, check out the website for the National Sleep Foundation, or speak with your physician.