U. Buffalo: COVID-19 Lockdowns Worsen Childhood Obesity


41 obese children under lockdown substituted physical activity with more TV.

According to researchers at University at Buffalo, lockdowns implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened diet, sleep, and physical activity among children with obesity.
The study, published in the journal Obesity, examined 41 overweight children under confinement throughout March and April in Verona, Italy.
Compared to the behaviors recorded a year prior, children ate an additional meal per day, slept an extra half hour per day,, added nearly five hours of screen time (phone, computer, TV) per day, and dramatically increased their consumption of red meat, sugary drinks, and junk foods. Physical activity decreased by more than two hours per week, and the amount of vegetables the children consumed remained unchanged.
“The tragic COVID-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection,” Myles Faith, PhD, UB childhood obesity expert and co-author in the study, said. “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. 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.”
The results confirmed based on the yearly change that children with obesity may 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,” Faith said. “This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults.”
Faith posited that 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. He encouraged the use of telemedicine programs that encourage families to maintain healthy lifestyle choices during periods of lockdown.
Currently, Faith and his colleagues are conducting an ongoing NIH-funded study examining family-based treatment for childhood obesity using telemedicine technology which allows participants to be treated in their homes.