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Is Coronavirus Lockdown Worsening Childhood Obesity?

Published on Jun 20, 2020 and last reviewed on Jan 06, 2022   -  5 min read


With schools across the globe closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and children forced to stay indoors, childhood obesity is rising. Read the article to know more.

Is Coronavirus Lockdown Worsening Childhood Obesity?

When the pandemic began, most countries around the globe had implemented lockdowns to curb the spread of the new Coronavirus infection. Schools and colleges were shut down without further notice, and children were not allowed to step out of the house to play. Even with the advent of vaccines, parents are still reluctant to send their children out to play, which is justifiable. The pandemic has not ended still. This has negatively impacted their diet, physical activity, and sleep (a study conducted by the University at Buffalo). According to another study, a lack of physical activity combined with unhealthy snacking has led to the worsening of childhood obesity.

Are Children Really Gaining Weight?

A study, that was published in the journal called Obesity, examined 41 obese children throughout March and April and compared it to behaviors recorded a year back in Verona, Italy. This study was conducted and led by Steven Heymsfield (a professor at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center) and Angelo Pietrobelli (a professor at the University of Verona in Italy). The study found that these children consumed an additional meal every day, slept more than usual, and spent almost five hours every day on the phone, television, and computer. They also noted a drastic increase in the consumption of red meat, junk food, and sugary beverages. The study also noted a decline in physical activity by two hours per week.

The school helps children maintain a routine around mealtimes, physical activity, and sleep, which are important lifestyle factors associated with the risk of obesity. This is why children typically gain more weight during summer vacation, as this routine gets disturbed when they are home. This led to the study to check if children gained more weight while being confined at home for such a long time, and it did find unhealthy behavior in obese children.

Why Are Children Gaining Weight During Lockdown?

The following are some causes of weight gain:

  1. Spending most of the time idle in front of the television, smartphone, or video games.
  2. Snacking on sweets and fried food between meals.

  3. As they are not allowed to go play with their friends, physical activity suffers a decline.

  4. Some parents give their children chocolates or chips as positive reinforcement.

  5. A change in routine can affect them mentally, and they might start comfort eating.

  6. Not being able to meet their friends and grandparents might also have the same effect.

  7. Sleeping during the day.

  8. Staying awake late and midnight snacking.

  9. Consuming high-calorie and low-nutrient foods and drinks.

How Is Childhood Obesity Harmful?

Childhood obesity can affect your child physically, socially, and emotionally. Obese children are more prone to:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

  • High cholesterol.

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD).

  • Type 2 diabetes.

  • Metabolic syndrome.

  • Stroke.

  • Asthma.

  • Sleep apnea.

  • Early menstruation or puberty.

  • Fertility problems.

  • Arthritis and joint problems.

  • Fatty liver.

  • Gallstones.

  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

  • Skin infection due to increased sweating and skin folds.

  • Dementia.

Obese children are also more likely to be teased and bullied, which makes them susceptible to:

  • Anxiety.

  • Depression.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Social isolation.

  • Lower quality of life.

  • Poor social skills.

  • Behavior problems.

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity During Lockdown?

The following are some ways to effectively fight childhood obesity, which are fun and will encourage your child to eat healthily and stay active.

1) Make Their Favorite Dish Healthier:

Instead of using refined flour and processed food items, such as spaghetti, bread, and noodles, opt for whole-wheat pasta, zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, and wheat bread. Find a way to include a healthy vegetable in every meal.

2) Keep Them Hydrated:

Encourage them to carry their water bottle and keep sipping water the entire day. This will keep them hydrated and full. When they feel full, they are less tempted to snack on sugary things.

3) Include Healthy Snacks:

Do not encourage them by giving them ice creams, chips, and chocolate in between meals. Make it a habit to give them fruits or nuts. You can make healthy fruit sorbet or give them Greek yogurt and berries in place of ice creams.

4) Educate Them About Portion Sizes:

We do not want you to completely deprive your child of his or her favorite chocolate and chips. You can teach them to portion out their food before they eat anything. Instead of giving them an entire bag of chips to snack on, dish it out in small portions.

5) Ask Them to Pay Attention to Signs of Hunger and Satiety:

Teach them how to pick up signs and signals the body shows when it is time to start and stop eating. Tell them not to wait until they are starving or overeat until they feel stuffed.

6) Exercise:

If you ask your child to work out or exercise alone, it is never going to happen. Instead, exercise together as a family. When they see you working out daily, they get encouraged. Go for a walk together or do yoga at home. Play any sport that they are interested in.

7) Be Supportive:

Do not nag or keep insisting your child follow a diet plan or physical activity. Educate them to make healthy choices and control their portions on their own. Let them be as independent as possible.

8) Do Not Use Food as a Punishment or Reward:

Positive reinforcement is good, but make sure the incentives and rewards do not involve food.

9) Limit Screen Time:

Kids usually tend to spend hours staring at digital screens, and in recent years due to COVID restrictions, they are forced to stare at smartphones, laptops, and computers for educational purposes. Though schools are reopening now, online education still tends to prevail at times and in parts of the world whenever cases surge. To prevent this excessive screen time, allow only 1 to 2 hours every day for television or video games. Encourage them to draw, paint, play with their toys, or dance the rest of the time.

Some other things that might help are:

  • Do not let them eat meals or snacks while watching television, as they might not pay attention to the feeling of fullness and overeat.
  • Stock foods that are low on calories and high on nutrition. But make sure you give them chocolates and other treats occasionally.

  • Let them do chores that help burn calories, such as mowing the lawn, gardening, washing the car, or cleaning the house. Assign age-appropriate tasks every day to keep them engaged.

A healthy diet and physical activity can help your child stay fit during this lockdown. These simple tips will prevent or minimize the risk of childhood obesity, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but all year long. Use this time wisely and lay a strong foundation for a lifetime of good health!

For more information, talk to a doctor online through phone or video consultation.

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Last reviewed at:
06 Jan 2022  -  5 min read




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