Above is the headline of a June 3, 2020, article in Science Daily reporting on a study published on April 30th by the University of Buffalo in the research journal Obesity. It is well established that childhood obesity is a significant health issue in the U.S. and in other developed nations. This study looked at the effect the stay-at-home lockdown has had on children and their eating habits.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health. Obesity prevalence among children and adolescents is still too high.” On the CDC website, they note that prevalence of obesity is 18.5% and affects about 13.7 million children and adolescents. The breakdown shows that obesity affects 13.9% of 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% of 12- to 19-year-olds.
The study was conducted in Verona, Italy, where there was a significant lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has had far reaching health, social, and economic implications. It has closed schools around the world leaving children at home where their diets were not regulated by school programs.
A total of 41 children and adolescents with obesity were included in the study. The researchers initially collected information on each participant’s lifestyle including diet, daily activity, and sleep behaviors. This information was later collected again at three weeks into the lockdown to see if there was a significant change due to the lockdown.
The results of the study showed that there was an increase in the number of meals eaten per day by the children while at home.
This increase showed that more than one additional meal was eaten each day. Although there was an increase in the amount of meals eaten, there was no increase in the amount of vegetables eaten. One possible benefit was that there was an increase in fruit consumption. Unfortunately, there was also a significant increase in the consumption of potato chips, red meat, and sugary drink during the lockdown.
The results also revealed that the children had a significant increase in sleep time of over an hour per day. Conversely, they also had a significant decrease of around five hours less in sports and activity per week. As expected, there was a very large increase in screen time averaging almost five extra hours per day.
In their discussion, the authors point out that these results all point toward negative health outcomes and exacerbation of obesity issues. They commented, “Specifically, our longitudinal study of children and adolescents with obesity affirmed that eating, activity, and sleep behaviors changed in an unfavorable direction three weeks into their confinement during the national lockdown. These observations point to the critical need for implementation of preventive measure during periods of lockdown, particularly when their duration is uncertain.”
In the Science Daily article on this study, Myles Faith, PhD, UB childhood obesity expert and co-author on the study commented, “The tragic COVID-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection. 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.”