Sleep apnea is a disorder where a person’s breathing is interrupted and may stop during the sleep schedule. Recent reports claim that this disorder may afflict not only adults, but also children. Previous research has focused on behavioral issues for children suffering from sleep apnea as well as other health concerns such as diabetes.
CHEO Research Institute’s principal investigator Dr. Sherri Katz claims that there is a direct link between obesity and sleep apnea. “In the past we used to see predominantly preschool-age children who had large tonsils and large adenoids, that was the basis for their obstructive sleep apnea. As time goes on we are seeing a second wave of children with obstructive sleep apnea, predominantly over the age of eight, where obesity is the major factor contributing to their sleep disorder.” Dr. Katz said before adding, “Rates of sleep apnea are about three to 10 times higher in children with obesity. There aren’t sufficient pediatric sleep laboratory resources across the country to manage the growing demand.”
Dr. Indra Narang, who is the director of sleep medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, echoed the concerns voiced by Dr. Katz, explaining that a main determinant in children visiting the sleep medicine department that she oversees is due to obesity.
“We are inundated with referrals for obesity-related sleep apnea. We also believe that probably 60 to 70 per cent of obesity-related sleep apnea isn’t even diagnosed because of a lack of an awareness of sleep apnea associated with obesity. I think the disaster is happening as we speak. Not only do they not sleep well at night, but these children are affected during the day. They are sleeping, they are tired, they don’t learn as well, they don’t do as well at school. They can’t participate in physical activity. Our concern is 75 per cent of obese children will become obese adults and will have untreated obstructive sleep apnea and what we will see is an epidemic of premature cardiovascular death because of obesity and because of related obstructive sleep apnea,” Dr. Narang said.
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