Study shows childhood obesity worse due to COVID-19 lockdowns


Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted diet, sleep, and physical activity among children with obesity, according to new research by the University at Buffalo published in the journal Obesity.

For the study, researchers examined overweight children under confinement throughout March and April in Verona, Italy. The researchers surveyed 41 children and teens with obesity who were involved in an ongoing long-term study. Lifestyle information regarding diet, activity, and sleep was collected three weeks into Italy's mandatory national lockdown and compared to data on the children gathered in 2019. Questions focused on physical activity, screen time, sleep, eating habits, and the consumption of red meat, pasta, snacks, fruits, and vegetables.

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 researchers said.

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.

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, the researchers said. There is also a need to establish and evaluate telemedicine programs that encourage families to maintain healthy lifestyle choices during periods of lockdown.

“School environments provide structure and routine around mealtimes, physical activity, and sleep, three predominant lifestyle factors implicated in obesity risk,” Myles Faith, PhD, childhood obesity expert and co-author on the study, in a statement. “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.”