The Covid-19 pandemic has affected adults and children alike, both directly and indirectly. Those who were not a direct victim of this disease fell prey to other life-altering ailments as a form of collateral damage. One such problem faced was obesity. It was observed more predominantly in children. This has been largely due to poor lifestyle owing to little to no focus on fitness and health.
Why is childhood obesity concerning?
Obesity affects 337 million children worldwide. The Health Organization recognised "obesity" as a global pandemic in 1997. It is a complex heterogeneous disease. Genetic, behavioural and environmental factors influence the weight of a child although paediatric obesity rates can vary by age, ethnicity, geographic location, and other social determinant factors.
Due to strict lockdown rules, the movement was restricted which caused people to start panic shopping and buying products with longer shelf life, especially foods that are ultra-processed calorie-dense. Schools closed in 2020 with the imposition of nationwide lockdown forcing children of all ages to be confined in their homes. This heavily impacted children's behaviour and development, leading them to start stress-eating food rich in calories. Closed public spaces like children's parks also influence their outdoor activities. No physical activity doubled with high-calorie intake made them susceptible to weight gain.
How Covid-19 pandemic affected children?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, schools shifted classes to the virtual model. This has caused children to stay hooked to mobile phones, laptops and tablets for their classes during the day. But screen time was not limited to online classes, they also used virtual modes of communication to make up for the meetings and outdoor activities curbed by social distancing and lockdown norms.
In fact, it was reported that screen time increased by 5 hours during the pandemic. Binging on food and on online streaming platforms were two constants during the pandemic. This led to zero activity more calorie intake and a consequent increase in weight. Due to strict social distancing norms, children are restricted at home which limits their amount of physical activity during the day. This has also added to the problem.
Dr B.S.C.P. Raju, Consultant Pediatrician, Rainbow Children's Hospital, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
What can parents do to tackle childhood obesity?
As the proverb goes, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, it is better to deal with your child's obesity issues now than to deal with its complications later. There are a few things that you can do as a parent to help deal with your child's obesity.
- Make healthcare accessible to children: Connect with healthcare infrastructure telephonically for screening, prevention and treatment of obesity. With the help of telemedicine prescribed by multidisciplinary teams curated for your child's needs, you can provide necessary care to your child.
- Promote healthy habits: You can strengthen your knowledge of nutrition in children, create opportunities for physical activities like yoga and games involving physical movement, and make healthier food options available for your child.
- Limit screen time: You can keep the screen time exposure of your child in check and ensure that they always sleep on time so that they can be well-rested.
- Routine check-ups: You should get routine check-ups so you can stay updated on your child's health and become aware before anything becomes dangerous.
How can schools help tackle childhood obesity?
School authorities can expand the availability of resources to support the use of evidence-based childhood obesity prevention programs. Teachers can plan after school programs that will keep them engaged in some form of physical activity. With the reopening of schools, authorities can make sure that only healthy food options are available at the canteen. They should also promote physical activities during school hours while maintaining social distancing norms. Teachers can also promote the need of eating healthy among the students.
Children with obesity, who get infected with the Covid-19 virus, are at a higher risk of getting hospitalized due to health complications. Telemedicine can be an effective approach to tackle childhood obesity through trusted healthcare providers. However, individual efforts to promote a healthy diet and physical activity will also help prevent and cure childhood obesity.
This article was written by Dr B.S.C.P. Raju, Consultant Pediatrician, Rainbow Children's Hospital, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh and published in partnership with Rainbow Children's Hospital.