The Surprising Effects Of Light On Kids

Research suggests that light exposure influences the weight of preschool children—raising questions about how we approach issues like child obesity.

AsianScientist (Jan. 18, 2016) – The amount of light we are exposed to, both natural and artificial, can influence anything from your mood to your sleep patterns. Now, researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have discovered that light exposure even affects the weight of preschool children. The article was published in PLOS ONE.

The team from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the Centre for Children’s Health Research studied children aged three to five from six Brisbane childcare centers. They measured the children’s sleep, activity and light exposure for a two-week period, along with height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI), then followed up with the participants 12 months later.

“At Time 1, we found moderate intensity light exposure earlier in the day was associated with increased BMI while children who received their biggest dose of light—outdoors and indoors—in the afternoon were slimmer,” said lead author and PhD student, Ms. Cassandra Pattinson.

She added that at follow-up, children who had more total light exposure at Time 1 had higher body mass 12 months later. Light had a significant impact on weight even after Time 1 body weight, sleep and activity were accounted for.

“Around 42 million children around the globe under the age of five are classified as overweight or obese, so this is a significant breakthrough and a world-first.”

She points out that artificial lighting, including light given off by tablets, mobile phones, night lights and television means modern children are exposed to more environmental light than any previous generation.

“This increase in light exposure has paralleled global increases in obesity,” she said.

Previous studies have shown that the timing, intensity and duration of exposure to both artificial and natural light have acute biological effects in mammals. These factors are critical for metabolic functioning and weight status, and the findings suggest that the same applies to humans, she said.

“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. It impacts on sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, hormonal changes and our mood.

“Factors that impact on obesity include calorie intake, decreased physical activity, short sleep duration, and variable sleep timing. Now, light can be added to the mix.”

Pattinson said the next step was to figure out how the research can be used in the fight against obesity in children.

“This 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.”

She added that the team plans to conduct further studies with preschoolers and infants.

The article can be found at: Pattinson et al. (2016) Environmental Light Exposure is Associated with Increased Body Mass in Children.


Source: Queensland University of Technology; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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