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Fighting Obesity with Treatment of Underlying Sleep Conditions

Figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that obesity among American adults has nearly doubled since 1980. The statistics for child obesity are even more alarming, with the number of overweight children between the ages of 6 and 19 more than tripling since then.

Dr. Richard Simon from Walla Walla, WA amounts the trend to a sedentary lifestyle, high caloric intake and sleep deprivation. He specializes in sleep medicine and said that he believes these three features add up to an ideal formula for obesity.

Obesity among younger patients, in particular, is causing much concern for parents. According to the CDC, as many as a third of children born in the U.S. in the year 2000 will develop diabetes. Researchers have noticed increased instances of type 2 diabetes in children younger than 10 years, although the condition has been historically linked to adults older than 40 years. Diabetes increases the risk of hypertension and heart attack. It can damage vital organs such as the kidneys and eyes. All these risks are heightened if a patient developed diabetes at a young age, especially if the condition is left untreated.

In addition, researchers have made a connection between child obesity and sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes irregular or obstructed breathing at night. While sleep apnea has always been linked to heavier-set patients, a recent 20-year study suggested that diagnoses of sleep apnea among obese children have increased by more than 400 percent. Sleep apnea is a huge problem among adult patients as well, with nearly 18 million Americans diagnosed.

Sleep specialists Lauren Broch, Ph.D. and Margaret Moline, Ph.D. from the New York Weill Cornell Medical center said that weight gain puts pressure on the trunk and neck area and breeds poor breathing habits. They noted that sleep apnea patients often suffer symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness, which makes it more likely that they will use their waking hours to diet and exercise. The process becomes a vicious cycle of obesity and sleep apnea symptoms, with each condition feeding the other in a never-ending loop.

Moreover, a study conducted in 1999 at the University of Chicago concluded that prolonged sleep deprivation can cause changes in hormone balance and irregular metabolism which also contribute to obesity. The vicious cycle works both ways. Sleep deprived patients were found to need 10 percent more insulin than patients who achieved more than 7 hours of sleep per night, a characteristic indicative of future weight gain and diabetes.

Further implications of Dr. Cauter’s research include a suggestion that obesity may be able to be treated by treating underlying sleep disorders. Available forms of therapy for sleep apnea such as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) may be able to reduce daytime sleepiness and encourage patients to lose weight, which may help both the obesity and the sleep apnea.

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