Parents who let their young children climb into bed with them during the night may decrease their child's risk of obesity, a new study from Denmark suggests.

In the study, children who never entered their parents' bed during the night were three times more likely to be overweight compared with children who got into their parents' bed every night.

The findings are contrary to what might have been expected: obesity is associated with poor sleep quality, and kids who climb into bed with mom and dad are clearly waking up during the night, the researchers said.

However, parents who let their kids enter their beds at night may be giving their children a greater sense of emotional support, which may protect against obesity, the researchers said. In contrast, some children who are not allowed to enter their parents' bed at night may feel rejected, and such negative feelings may increase the risk of obesity, they said.

Dr. Nanna Olsen, of the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Copenhagen University Hospitals, and colleagues analyzed information from 645 children ages 2 to 6 who were predisposed to obesity because they had a high birth weight, their mothers were overweight before pregnancy or their families had a low income.

For about 500 of the children, information was available on whether the child entered the parents' bed at night, and if so, how often. In addition, researchers had information on the children's body mass index (BMI).

The study was presented today (May 9) at the European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France.