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Articles by Dr. Walt Larimore

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Dr. Walt Larimore

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert. read bio

The Crucial Importance of R.E.S.T.

When Walt's son, Scott, turned fifteen, the boy asked his parents if he could have a television in his bedroom. He even offered to pay for it. Walt told Scott he would discuss his plea with his mom and get back to him. Since he did not know as much about the danger of TV watching as he does now, he unwisely discounted Barb's feelings when she voiced her concerns. Barb is not only more intuitive than Walt; she is also a trained educator. Walt should have listened. They discussed the potential positives and negatives, and she eventually gave in to Walt's point of view. So Walt told Scott he could get a TV as long as he bought it with his own money. Walt considered it a good lesson for him.

What a mistake! That TV attracted Scott like a vulture to a rotting carcass. The thing sucked him into his bedroom about fifteen seconds after he finished dinner, and no one saw him again until the next morning. Who knows what he watched? What a bad parenting move! Walt now says he should have listened to Barb. So why are we telling you this story in a book on childhood obesity? The answer, we suspect, will surprise you.           

With a TV in his bedroom, Scott succumbed more times than not to the temptation to catch late-night shows on school nights. This cut into his sleep time and made him a lot more tired in the morning. Because he felt more tired, he began to exercise less in the afternoons – instead, taking naps to catch up on his sleep. His morning fatigue led him to sleep later than he should, so instead of eating a healthful breakfast at home, he stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way to school and gobbled down the food as he drove to class. As a result, his BMI (body mass index) began to shoot up. What drove Scott's weight gain? Although a number of culprits could be identified, Walt never suspected back then that his son's lack of sleep and rest was one of them.

Are we missing the point?

Quick, now: What's the best diet for losing weight and getting healthy? Atkins? Weight Watchers? South Beach? Grapefruit? Salads only?  With questions like that, we might just be missing the point. "We're in the middle of a diet debate over fats or carbohydrates [for optimal weight loss]," said Pam Smith, a registered dietitian and sports consultant in Orlando, FL, "but the part rest plays is missed in the debate."   

With all the media attention that this or that diet plan attracts, most people have no idea just how strong the link between sleep loss and weight gain is. An increasing number of studies are suggesting that the less sleep someone gets, the more likely he or she is to put on unwanted pounds. While scientists don't yet know the exact connection between the two, the link seems undeniable. And the few published studies that focus on the connection between sleep loss and weight gain in children ought to slap us wide awake.            

The most comprehensive study to date looked at more than eight thousand Japanese children aged six to seven years. It found a "significant" connection between late bedtime or short sleeping hours and childhood obesity – that is, the fewer hours of sleep a child got, the more likely he or she was to be overweight or obese. A second study focused on nearly seven thousand German children age five to six. It found that the less these children slept, the more likely they were to be overweight or obese. Overweight children and those with excessive body fat also reported getting fewer hours of sleep than children of normal weight. In the United States, a survey of 1,473 randomly selected households conducted in 2004 found that children, from infants to fifth graders, are getting far less sleep than they need – a shortfall of one to two hours every night.        

Teens appear to follow a similar pattern. Researchers at the University of Texas Health and Science Center in Houston discovered that obese adolescents slept significantly fewer hours than those of normal weight. The Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit interviewed more than a thousand teens and found that a third of them reported occasional sleep problems, while a whopping 94 percent of that group said that they had had trouble sleeping at least twice a week for a month or longer during the previous year. Almost 20 percent of teens thirteen to sixteen years of age qualified for a clinical diagnosis of insomnia – and for many of them, the problem began at age eleven. And you know the most surprising finding of all? Most of their parents had no idea their kids had trouble getting enough sleep.   

Despite the strong trend toward fewer sleeping hours, evidence is accumulating that nine hours is optimum amount of sleep for children and teens. That means that if we want to give our kids the best chance of avoiding the physical devastation caused by carrying around too much weight, we need to teach them to make it a priority to R.E.S.T. – Reclaim Essential Sleep Time.  

Taken with permission from SuperSized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child from the Obesity Threat by Walt Larimore, M.D.; Sherri Flynt, MPH, RD, LD with Steve Halliday, (Center Street).   

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.

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