COVID-19 lockdowns worsen childhood obesity, study finds

The study, published in April in Obesity, examined 41 overweight children under confinement throughout March and April in Verona, Italy.

Compared to behaviors recorded a year prior, the children 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.

“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 unfavorable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors.”

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.

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 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 behaviors are not re-established,” says Faith. “This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults.

“Government officials and policymakers should consider the potential harmful effects of lockdowns on youths with obesity when making decisions regarding when and how to loosen restrictions, says Faith.

Source: University at Buffalo

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