Being overweight or obese increases the risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adolescents but not in younger children, according to a recently published study.

The study results showed that the risk of OSA among Caucasian adolescents 12 years of age and older was increased 3.5 times with each standard-deviation increase in body mass index  (BMI) z-score, while the risk of OSA did not significantly increase with increasing BMI among younger children.

"These results were a little surprising to us initially, as obesity is generally considered to increase the risk of sleep apnea amongst all children," said principal investigator Mark Kohler, PhD, research fellow at the Children’s Research Centre at the University of Adelaide in Australia. "Previous results have been inconsistent, however, and appear to be confounded by using mixed ethnic populations and different ages of children."

The results suggest that the increase in risk among overweight and obese adolescents may be due to developmental changes such as reductions in upper airway tone and changes to anatomic structures, according to the study authors.

The study authors note that developmental changes in the association between obesity and OSA may follow a different age trajectory among other ethnicities.

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