Obesity epidemic accelerated from the COVID-19 pandemic, study flags
09 May 2022 --- Research has found that weight in young children from low-income households increased by an average of 7% in the first six months of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Weight gain was highest among those already considered severely obese prior to the onset of the pandemic, with an average weight gain of six kilograms.
“We know that excess weight gain during childhood is difficult to reverse. If left unchecked, it can have serious health consequences such as type 2 diabetes. As well as higher odds of having obesity as an adult,” explains Ihuoma Eneli, director of the center for healthy weight and nutrition, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University in Columbus.
“Poverty makes obesity and its negative health effects more likely, and access to obesity care is disproportionately lower in minority populations.”
Previous studies have already provided evidence that the first lockdown changed diets of overweight and highly educated people in a negative direction.
Change in lifestyle affects many factors
The lockdown period significantly caused a knock-on effect of several unhealthy consumption patterns, such as the lack of exercise and sleep disruptions. It has also increased stress and anxiety levels, screen time and snack consumption.
The new study was conducted based on 4,500 participants between the ages two and 17. The findings showed an increase from 38% to 45% of young people who are overweight, obese or severely obese.
One in five gained at least 5 kg, and there was a 4% increase of a minimum 10 kg gain. Body mass index (BMI) was increased on average by at least two units. The group who were severely obese before the pandemic showed to be the group that gained the most weight, resulting in an average gain of 6 kg.
Certain groups were proven to gain more weight and move to a worse weight category. Those were children aged between two and seven, girls and people from an ethnic minority.
“These new data underscore why urgent action is needed to close the gap between the most and least deprived to ensure every child has an equal chance to grow up healthy,” Eneli notes.
Of those underweight before the pandemic, 45% gained on average two kilos, which contributed to them entering the healthy weight group.
“This study reflects findings from the first three to six months during the pandemic. As families and communities began to adapt, the weight change trajectory later during the pandemic may differ and deserves further study,” Eneli states.
“Along with several negative pandemic-related consequences on child health. Such as increased mental health concerns, food insecurity, deficits in immunization coverage and school performance; addressing the excessive weight gain should be a top priority for families, administrators or policymakers,” she continues.
Obesity is a global threat
The European Congress of Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, provides additional studies highlighting that obesity is not only a health issue in the US. Neither is it only an issue in children and young adults.
Studies have shown a trebled increase in Denmark during the past three decades. Danish adults who are obese result in 18% of the population in 2021, compared to only 6% in 1987.
Additionally, obesity for women is also linked with an increased risk of bone fracture by 7% of every two inches (5 cm) increase in waist measurement.
The UK has also seen increased obesity among children due to the pandemic.
Between the years 2019 to 2020, obesity-related hospital admissions in the UK exceeded one million, and obesity was defined as an epidemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the need for better labeling in terms of nutrition and more robust regulations. In a study, they reveal that more than half of the population in the European Union is obese.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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