Recently, a new study conducted by Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a team of researchers shows that the coronavirus pandemic may affect childhood obesity.
More specifically, the research highlighted how the time spent at home by the children is likely to be higher due to the prevalence of COVID’19 which can increase the risk of obesity since children will have more free time.
In the past month, many schools in the US, as well as other parts of the world along with other institutions, have been shut down in order to avoid large public gatherings to control the further spread of coronavirus.
Consequently, children are not expected to return to school in this academic year or as long as the pandemic lasts. Previously, there were suggestions regarding re-opening the schools occasionally when the infection has been controlled to an extent.
However, evidence from countries including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore shows that such a decision may actually worsen the pandemic than improve it.
Hence, ending social distancing occasionally will only increase the amount of time it has to be later implemented for controlling coronavirus infection.
According to the researchers in the new study, whose findings appear in the journal Obesity, this can take a toll on the health of the children.
Previously, research has identified how the lack of physical activity in schools and resources combined with stress and poor food negatively impacts the children’s health.
On the other hand, it should also be noted that most studies have concluded that the majority of the children put on unhealthy amounts of weight during holidays and specifically the summer break.
The leading author of the study and a specialist in obesity in children, Andrew Rundle says that “There could be long-term consequences for weight gained while children are out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic,”
He added that “Research shows that weight gained over the summer months is maintained during the school year and accrues summer to summer. When a child experiences obesity, even at a young age, they are at risk for higher, unhealthy weight, all the way into middle age.”
In their study, the team stated that one of the biggest causes of a higher risk of developing childhood obesity during the coronavirus pandemic is buying calorie-dense, sugary, and processed foods.
Therefore, the diets of the children are filled with unhealthy foods that are likely to cause weight gain and obesity. Secondly, the guidelines on staying indoors to avoid catching the infection also play a role.
Staying indoors with minimum contact limits the children’s options to activities like playing video games or watching television. As a consequence, their lifestyle can become sedentary during COVID’19.
In order to avoid obesity and weight gain during the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers suggest opting for home-cooked healthy meals or foods bought from farmer’s markets that are usually nutritious and affordable.
Additionally, even though outdoor time should be avoided during the pandemic, different physical activities can be planned indoors and should be a part of the newly introduced distance-learning online programs that many schools and institutions are offering.
Such additions will increase a child’s physical activity and also take much of the free time that most of the children are likely to use by eating snacks in front of a television.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for widespread sickness and death, straining healthcare systems, shutting down economies, and closing school districts,” said the researchers in the paper.
“While it is a priority to mitigate its immediate impact, it is important to consider ways to prevent its long-term effects, including new risks for childhood obesity,” they added.