The results were published today in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The Australian study involved 234 Caucasian children. They were between the ages of 2 and 18 years. Their height and weight were used to calculate their body mass index. About 62 percent of the children were boys.
The children were suspected to have possible OSA because of parental concerns about their snoring. Their sleep was evaluated during an overnight sleep study.
Results show that the risk for OSA increased 3.5 times for each increase in BMI score in children 12 years of age and older. But increases in BMI score did not raise the risk for OSA in children under the age of 12.
OSA was detected in 34 percent of the children who were between 12 and 18 years of age. About 53 percent of the children in this age group were obese.
The authors suggest that developmental changes during adolescence may explain the results. These changes include reductions in the muscle tone of the upper airway.
They emphasized that the results are specific to Caucasian children. Obesity and OSA may interact at other ages in other ethnic groups.
The authors also noted that tonsil size may interact with obesity to increase the risk of developing OSA. But snoring teens who are obese should be evaluated for OSA regardless of their tonsil size.
The AASM reports that about two percent of healthy young children have OSA. It occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway during sleep.
Most children with OSA have a history of loud snoring. This may include obvious pauses in breathing and gasps for breath. Parents often notice that the child seems to be working hard to breathe during sleep.
In June the Sleep Education Blog reported that the causes of sleep apnea in children are complex. Sleep apnea often occurs when a child has large tonsils and adenoids. But weight and nasal problems also can play a role.
Learn more about obstructive sleep apnea in children. Get help at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.
Image by Robert Hruzek