COVID-19 lockdowns worsen childhood obesity

June 8, 2020 in Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

COVID-19 lockdowns worsen childhood obesity

Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic can negatively impact diet, sleep and physical activity among children with obesity, finds University at Buffalo research. 

Compared to behaviors recorded a year prior, the children studies ate an additional meal per day; slept an extra half hour per day; added nearly five hours per day in front of phone, computer and television screens; and dramatically increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks and junk foods.

Physical activity, on the other hand, decreased by more than two hours per week, and the amount of vegetables consumed remained unchanged.

According to one of the researchers, "children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavorable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors." 

Children and adolescents typically gain more weight during summer vacation than during the school year, which led the researchers to wonder if being homebound would have a similar effect on the kids' lifestyle behaviors.

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

About the study

The researchers surveyed 41 children and teens with obesity living in Italy, who were involved in an ongoing long-term study. Lifestyle information regarding diet, activity and sleep was collected three weeks into Italy's mandatory national lockdown and compared to data on the children gathered in 2019.

Questions focused on physical activity, screen time, sleep, eating habits, and the consumption of red meat, pasta, snacks, fruits and vegetables.

The results confirmed the negative change in behavior, indicating that children with obesity fare worse on weight control lifestyle programs while at home compared to when they are in school.

"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 behaviors are not re-established," said the researcher. "This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults."

Source: Obesity, April 30, 2020.

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