Lack of sleep putting children at risk of overweight and obesity (NI)

New campaign also urges parents to make bedrooms screen-free.

21 April 2015. A lack of adequate sleep is putting children at risk of becoming overweight as they get older according to the latest phase of safefood’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

The campaign is encouraging parents to develop a regular bedtime routine for their children and make bedrooms a “screen-free zone” by removing phones and tablets at night to ensure better sleeping habits for children’s healthy growth and development.

A recent safefood online survey* found that almost two thirds (63%) of parents said they didn’t think their child got enough sleep.

Research shows an association between sleep and weight in children. 11 international studies* found that children with less than 11 hours sleep had a 58% increased risk of overweight and obesity than children who slept more. It showed that for each additional hour of sleep, the risk was reduced by 9%.

A review* of research into the effects of bedtime television screen time on sleep outcomes found that 90% of studies concluded that it delayed the onset of sleep and shortened sleep duration. This review didn’t include time spent playing video games, on computers, tablets or smartphones.

safefood’s message is part of a three year campaign to encourage Northern Ireland parents to make positive and practical changes to their children’s eating and physical activity habits in an effort to reduce the risks of childhood obesity.

Mr Jim Wells, the Minister for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland said:

By reducing the amount of time our children spend watching television or playing on the computer or phone, and increasing the amount of time they spend playing games or team sports, we will do much to improve their physical health and wellbeing."

“Whilst increasing physical activity, in combination with eating a healthy nutritious diet, will reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity amongst our children, getting a good night’s sleep will also help children focus better at school and may improve opportunities for learning.  Not only that but individuals who have a good night’s sleep may also be less likely to snack on sugary foods during the day in order to provide a convenient boost of energy.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood: “Sleep is such an important part of a child’s development but one that often gets overlooked. While parents are conscious of the health risks for children associated with everyday habits like too many ‘treat foods’, too many sugary drinks or not enough physical activity, they are unaware of how important quality sleep is for our children’s health.

“There is significant evidence which now shows children with shorter sleep duration are at increased risk of overweight and obesity. Sleep helps children’s bodies to grow and develop while for brain and emotional growth, sleep also gives them time to make sense of their day.

“Children need to have wind-down time before bedtime, just as we adults do and we need to make children’s bedrooms screen-free zones, and that includes charging all phones, tablets elsewhere at night.”

Pip Jaffa OBE, Chief Executive at Parenting NI, commented “Many parents may think their children are getting enough sleep, the reality is they’re probably not. Parents may not realise that children’s sleep is increasingly delayed or interrupted by the number of multiple screens in the home – whether that’s smartphone, laptop, tablet or television.

I am sure that when parents understand that screen time has a negative effect on children’s sleep and as a consequence, their health and weight, they will ensure there are strict limits on screen time.’

The campaign will feature on television, radio and digital advertising and will also be supported on the safefood website, Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #itsbedtime. The website also offers practical tips, advice and support from health experts for parents on how to set a better bedtime routine for their children.

Top tips for setting a good bedroom routine

Have a regular routine for bedtime

  • Having wind-down time (at least 40 minutes) is really important in getting ready for bed, as it helps you all to relax in the evening. so plan ahead
  • Encourage children to be active throughout the day but it’s best not to be active just before bed-time
  • Try to have your main meals 2 hours before bedtime - some active kids may need a small snack before bed-time too. A warm bath can help relax children and help them get ready for rest
  • For younger children, read a story with them or listen to some gentle music
  • For older children, read a book or magazine

Make bedtime screen-free time

  • Devices like TVs, laptops, games consoles, tablets and smartphones affect children’s sleep habits –get in the habit of turning them off at least one hour before bedtime
  • Charge all electronic devices elsewhere; your child’s room should be a calm, relaxing place
  • If your children watch some TV before bed-time, aim to choose something that is calm and relaxing

Create a sleep-friendly environment

  • Having a bedroom that’s sleep-friendly can really help – so have it dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
  • Thick curtains or a blackout blind can help with any outside light during the summer months. Just make sure they are installed safely.
  • And a comfortable mattress and bed helps too – it all adds to having an environment that’s sleep-friendly

Aim to get enough sleep for your child’s age

Sleeping is so important for children’s health and wellbeing – a lack of it can cause them to be hyperactive or cranky, or overly-tired when they need to be alert. There are no exact amounts and different aged children need different amounts of sleep – it can also vary between children but in general:

  • For under 5’s, aim for 11+ hours
  • For over 5’s, aim for 10+ hours
  • For over 10’s, aim for 9+ hours

- Ends -

For more information or to request an interview, please contact

ASG PR Russell Lever

Tel: 028 9080 2000 / Mob: 077 8828 8901


safefood Dermot Moriarty/Julie Carroll,

Tel: 01 4480622 / 086 3811034 (Dermot) 01 4480619 / 086 601 6005 (Julie)

*Online safefood survey of 1,696 parents on the island of Ireland (March-April 2015)

*Chen X, Beydoun MA, Wang Y. Is Sleep Duration Associated With Childhood Obesity? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Obesity. 2008;16(2):265-74.

*Hale L, Guan S. Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2014

Notes to editors

A recent safefood study also found that Irish preschool children (3-5) watched upwards of 1,000 TV ads for unhealthy foods over the course of a year and those who watched more television knew more about unhealthy food and drink brands than healthy brands.

*Young children's food brand knowledge. Early development and associations with television viewing and parent's diet. Mimi Tatlow-Golden & Eilis Hennessy (University College Dublin) Moira Dean & Lynsey Hollywood (Queen’s University Belfast)