London - Putting children to bed at the same time every night stops them gaining too much weight, research shows.
Eating regular meals and watching less than an hour of TV an evening also help prevent obesity. The study of almost 11 000 British children found a strong link between a well-defined family structure and emotional behaviour at the age 11.
This in turn affected whether or not they were likely to be obese, the research found.
Sarah Anderson, the American scientist who led the study, said a good bedtime routine was key. She added: "This study provides more evidence that routines for preschool-aged children are associated with their healthy development and could reduce the likelihood that these children will be obese.
"We saw that children who had the most difficulties with emotion regulation at age three also were more likely to be obese at age 11.
"This research allows us to better understand how young children’s routines around sleep, meals, and screen time relate to their regulation of emotion and behaviour.
"Sleep is so important and it’s important for children in particular."
The research was carried out jointly by academics at University College London and Ohio State University in the US.
It studied 10 955 children in the UK whose routines, weight and emotional regulation were measured when they were three and 11 years old. Emotional regulation was defined as whether or not they became easily frustrated or overexcited. Those who had a regular bedtime, ate meals at the same time and watched an hour or less of TV a night had more self-control. And those who had better emotional self-control were less likely to be obese, the results show.
Dr Anderson, who is based at Ohio’s College of Public Health, added: "Recommending regular bedtime routines is unlikely to cause harm, and may help children in other ways, such as through emotion regulation."