Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted diet, sleep and physical activity among children with obesity, according to the University at Buffalo research
Compared to behaviours recorded a year ago, the children involved in the study, ate an additional meal per day, slept an extra half hour per day, added nearly five hours per day in front of the phone, computer and television screens, and dramatically increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks and junk food.
Physical activity, on the other hand, decreased by more than two hours per week, and the number of vegetables consumed remained unchanged.
COVID-19 impacts health in more than one way
“The tragic COVID-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection,” says Myles Faith, PhD, UB childhood obesity expert and co-author on the study. “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.”
“Recognizing 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, chair and professor of counselling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.
Children gain weight when they’re at home
The study was led by Steven Heymsfield, MD, professor at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and Angelo Pietrobelli, MD, professor at the University of Verona in Italy.
Children and adolescents typically gain more weight during summer vacation than during the school year, says Faith, which led the researchers to wonder if being homebound would have a similar effect on the kids’ lifestyle behaviours.
“School environments provide structure and routine around mealtimes, physical activity and sleep – three predominant lifestyle factors implicated in obesity risk,” says Faith.
Obese children are at greater risk of gaining more weight
Children with obesity fare worse on weight control lifestyle programs while at home compared to when they are engaged in their school curriculum.
“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.”
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