Lockdowns are worsening childhood obesity, study finds

Obesity levels in children may rise due to living under lockdowns set because of the current pandemic, according to new research.

LOUISIANA: New research has found that living under a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic could be increasing obesity levels among children.

Led by researchers at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, USA, and the University of Verona in Italy, the new study looked at 41 overweight children and teens who were in confinement due to the pandemic throughout March and April in Verona, Italy, and taking part in another study.

The researchers surveyed the participants about their diet, physical activity, and sleep three weeks into Italy’s national lockdown and compared the responses to data on the children gathered in 2019.

The findings, published in the journal Obesity, showed that during lockdown, the children ate an extra meal each day, slept for an extra half hour daily, spent nearly five hours more in front of a screen each day, and decreased their physical activity by more than two hours per week, compared to the data recorded a year ago.

They also significantly increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks and junk foods, although how many vegetables they ate remained the same.

“The tragic Covid-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection,” says co-author of the study Myles Faith, PhD.

“Children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavourable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours.”

“Recognising these adverse collateral effects of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown is critical in avoiding the depreciation of hard-fought weight control efforts among youths afflicted with excess weight,” says Faith.

The researchers note that children and adolescents usually gain more weight during summer vacation than during the school year, which led them to believe that being at home and not at school due to the pandemic could have a similar effect.

“School environments provide structure and routine around mealtimes, physical activity and sleep — three predominant lifestyle factors implicated in obesity risk,” explains Faith.

“Depending on the duration of the lockdown, the excess weight gained may not be easily reversible and might contribute to obesity during adulthood if healthier behaviours are not re-established,” says Faith.

“This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults.”