June 19, 2024

Obesity Rates Spiked in Children During COVID-19 Lockdowns, With Youngest Affected the Most

A recent study published in PLOS ONE has revealed that obesity rates among primary school children in the UK experienced a significant surge during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton, UK, led by Iván Ochoa-Moreno, indicated a 45% increase in obesity prevalence among 4-5-year-olds between the academic years of 2019/2020 and 2020/2021. The authors of the study estimated that if these rising obesity rates are not reversed, it could incur an additional £800 million in healthcare costs for society, solely related to Year 6 children.

The closure of schools in the first year of the pandemic brought about profound changes in the routines of young children, resulting in a range of unhealthy behaviors that likely contributed to the sharp increase in overweight and obesity prevalence seen in children during this period. The cancellation of organized sports activities, disrupted sleep schedules, increased screen time, and a decline in healthy eating habits were identified as key factors behind this surge, which marked the largest annual increase in obesity rates in children witnessed in decades.

To comprehend the long-term health and economic consequences of the rising obesity rates in young children, the researchers analyzed Body Mass Index (BMI) data from England’s National Childhood Measurement Program (NCMP) prior to, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The study focused on children in their first and last years of primary school, aged 4-5 and 10-11, respectively. Additionally, the researchers utilized data from two other longitudinal cohorts in the UK to model the impact of these BMI trends on both adult health outcomes and costs.

The analysis unveiled a 45% rise in obesity rates among 4-5-year-olds during the 2020-2021 period, with a similar effect observed in Year 6 children. Notably, this increase was twice as high in the most deprived areas of England. While the number of overweight and obese 4-5-year-olds returned to pre-pandemic levels the following year, the elevated rates observed in older children persisted into 2022.

The study projected that this cohort of children would accumulate an additional £800 million in healthcare costs throughout their lifetimes, attributed to conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers emphasized that the difficulty in reversing weight gain in older children emphasizes the challenges of tackling obesity in this age group. Conversely, the swift return to pre-pandemic levels in young children highlights the potential effectiveness of policies targeting children under the age of five in combating obesity.

Professor Keith Godfrey, one of the authors of the study, commented, “The sharp increase in childhood obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the profound impacts on children’s development. Alongside the escalating costs of the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity, it is clear that more radical new policy measures are required to reduce obesity and secure well-being and prosperity for the country as a whole.”

In conclusion, the study’s findings shed light on the alarming increase in obesity rates among children during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The research underscores the urgency of implementing comprehensive policies and interventions targeting obesity in order to safeguard the health and well-being of children and mitigate the long-term economic consequences associated with this public health concern.

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1.      Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2.      We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it