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Light exposure a factor in childhood obesity: study

Queensland University of Technology has conducted a study revealing various levels and types of light exposure can affect children’s weight.

“The circadian clock, also known as the internal body clock, is largely driven by our exposure to light and the timing of when that happens,” PhD student Cassandra Pattinson said. “It affects sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, hormonal changes and our mood. Factors that [can contribute to] obesity include calorie intake, decreased physical activity, short sleep duration and variable sleep timing. Now light can be added to the mix.”

Pattinson, along with colleagues Simon Smith, Alicia Allan, Sally Staton and Karen Thorpe, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, studied children aged 3 to 5 in six Brisbane childcare centres. At a particular time, (Time 1) they measured each child’s sleeping pattern, activity and light exposure for two weeks, as well as their height and weight to calculate their BMI.

Children who received the largest dose of sunshine and light exposure both outdoors and indoors in the afternoon were slimmer.

When the children were assessed again 12 months later, it was found that children who had more light exposure at Time 1 had a higher body mass index. “Light had a significant impact on weight, even after we accounted for Time 1 body weight, sleep and activity,” Pattinson said.

The study also found that increased environmental light exposure increased the chances of obesity in young children. Lights that contributed to obesity included artificial lighting given off by tablets, mobile phones, night lights and television.

Pattinson said the next step was to discover how the research could be used to fight obesity in children.

“We plan to conduct further studies with preschoolers and also infants,” she said. “The research suggests that exposure to different types of light, both artificial and natural, at different times now needs to be part of the conversation about the weight of children.”

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