The Ultimate Sedentary Behavior


The relationship between obesity and sedentary behavior has surely been observed informally for centuries. The ultimate manifestation of remaining immobile for long periods of time is sleep. For a person to eat while actually asleep used to be a relatively rare problem. In recent years, some pharmaceutical sleep aids have been accused of causing nocturnal eating binges, but hopefully that phenomenon will remain relatively rare.

On the other hand, a slumbering body is an inanimate object — doing no exercise, working off no calories. Obviously, overindulgence in sleep is a liability and a bad choice for a number of reasons.

Paradoxically, insufficient sleep can also lead to obesity. It has been more than a decade since researchers began to notice a strong correlation between irregular sleep patterns and childhood obesity. Children of two and a half years, for instance, seem to need at least 10.5 solid hours, and if they don’t get it, they are more likely to be obese at age 7.

Recent research has linked poor sleep to both increased risk of obesity, and a more present possibility of cancer much later on, in adulthood. The study author was careful to note that a cause-and-effect relationship was not proven, but it looks mighty suspicious. Longitudinal studies are resource-intensive, but this is one area where more of them are definitely called for.

Bernard Fuemmeler, associate director of the Massey Cancer Center, goes so far as to say that “childhood obesity prevention is cancer prevention” and adds:

There are a number of distractions, such as screens in the bedroom, that contribute to interrupted, fragmented sleep.

Krysteena Stephens, M.A., and Victoria Dunckley, M.D., pointed out the connection between a steadily climbing obesity rate in the 1970s, and the release of the first home gaming systems in the same time period. As of five years ago, children and adolescents were spending an average of eight hours per day involved with computers, video game consoles, televisions, tablets, and cell phones.

A study of such typical kids revealed that their bloodwork generated unsatisfactory lab results, and their waistlines expanded:

The Journal of Public Health published a study on 1803 adolescents aged 12-19 years and found a positive correlation between screen time and likelihood of metabolic syndrome, independent of the amount of physical activity reported.

That last clause is meaningful. Even physically active young people test out in disturbing ways. Over time, sleep deprivation and the resulting stress mess up the metabolism, and increase insulin resistance. Some research showed that artificial light, such as light from the screens of all these devices, suppresses melatonin. Sleeplessness and stress interfere with leptin, the “I ate enough” hormone.

By 2014, it was pretty evident that, what with one thing and another, we are looking at increased risk for not only diabetes, but heart disease. Again, the study authors, from the University of Michigan and Baylor University, pointed out that a strict causal relationship between insufficient sleep and these dire medical consequences had not been proven. But the prognosis did not look good.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Development of the Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms — Childhood Obesity Model,”, 2012
Source: “A Sleepy Child Is More Likely to Pile on Pounds,”, 1/26/18
Source: “An Overlooked Factor in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic,”, 12/23/13
Source: “David Berreby rejects the diet+exercise model of obesity epidemic causation,”, 06/19/13
Source: “Lack of Sleep Compounds Health Problems for Obese Teens: Study,”, 03/06/14
Photo credit: Fumika Harukaze via Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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