Clay County 4th and 5th graders participate in UK research of circadian rhythms and obesity, little studied in children

The University of Kentucky recently partnered with over 100 fourth and fifth grade students in two Clay County schools to study the relationship between circadian rhythms and weight in children.

Sydney Sester, a fifth grade student at Manchester Elementary School, said in a UK news release that in addition to learning more about science and helping others by contributing to research, participating in the study showed her the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and eating well.

“It made me want to be more responsible with food and be patient with what I eat and only eat when I’m hungry,” she said.

The project, “Circadian Rhythm Parameters and Metabolic Syndrome Associated Factors in Young Children,” also known as the Clay County Clock Study, is led by Dr. Jody Clasey, associate professor of kinesiology and health promotion, and Dr. Karyn Esser, professor of physiology.

The research team says it hopes to learn about the relationship between circadian rhythms, eating, and activity behaviors and the incidence of overweight and obesity in children.

And while the team is in the process of analyzing the data, Esser told a group at the 10th annual Center for Clinical and Translational Science conference in March that early data show 33 percent of the students in the study are considered obese, their initial blood pressure measurements are on the high end of normal, and the students are less active on weekends and nights than during the school week.

The data was gathered through electronic devices that the students wore for seven days to measure activity, heart rate and skin temperature. The students also kept a daily journal to record their sleep and eating activities each day.

Previous studies have shown that disrupting an adult’s circadian rhythm is associated with increased risk for metabolic disease, which is a combination of chronic health conditions that puts a person at a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. Similar research with children has been limited.

Esser noted that “Clay County and many of the counties in Appalachia have a much higher rate of these chronic diseases.”

She also said that while it is known that light exposure affects the body clock, recent findings show that the time that we do activities, like exercising and eating, also contribute to circadian health, and that this is also likely true in children.

This research “could not only influence an individual, but school start times, activity intervention, just so many different areas from personal practice or behavioral choices to public policy, all for the metabolic or physiological good of the individual or collective body,” Clasey said.

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