The pandemic years have hit the little ones hard, forced to drastically change their habits during lockdown periods. For many of them this meant spending long days in front of the computer and television, practically zero physical activity, and awkward working hours. All risk factors for obesity and overweight. A study published in Plos One by researchers at the University of Southampton investigated the consequences of lockdowns on the weight of children in the United Kingdom, revealing that in fact the incidence of obesity and overweight in the island’s pediatric population has skyrocketed to levels never seen before in recent decades, and that few, at least among the older ones, have managed to lose the extra kilos at the end of the emergency.
The effect of lockdowns
The study evaluated data on body mass index (a value that expresses body weight in relation to height and age) collected by England’s National Childhood Measurement Program before, during and after the pandemic, integrating information with those coming from two other analyzes of the English population, to model the effects of the measures taken during the pandemic on the weight of English children between 4 and 5 years old, and those between 10 and 11 years old.
In the first age category, between 2020 and 2021 the incidence of obesity and overweight increased by as much as 45%, with even double percentages in the most disadvantaged areas of the country. For children aged 10-11 years the increase was more limited, but we are still talking about four percentage points more than expected, which from the researchers’ calculations translates into approximately 56 thousand more overweight and 16 thousand obese children, compared to trends seen before the start of the pandemic.
The difficult return to normality
Fortunately, for the little ones the situation seems to have normalized following the pandemic. The older children, on the other hand, kept the excess weight off even with the return to normality. Calculations in hand, if these children are unable to return to normal weight in the next few years, their obesity will cost the coffers of the United Kingdom over 800 million pounds in health costs linked to pathologies for which obesity represents a risk factor (such as tumors, diabetes , and cardiovascular problems), and over eight and a half billion pounds in social costs.
Obesity is a growing problem in Western countries. But what was seen following the pandemic in the pediatric population of the United Kingdom, according to the study authors, would have only been achieved in the absence of lockdown in another 10 years. “The marked increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity during the Covid 19 pandemic shows the profound impact this has had on the development of the little ones,” underlines Keith Godfrey, an epidemiologist at the University of Southampton who collaborated on the research. “Given the growing costs of the current childhood obesity epidemic, it is clear that more radical policies and measures will be needed to reduce the incidence of obesity, and ensure the well-being of the country.”