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Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted diet, sleep and physical activity among children with obesity, warn researchers.
"The tragic Covid-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection," said study co-author Myles Faith from the University at Buffalo in the US.
"Children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavourable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours," Faith added.
Children and adolescents typically gain more weight during summer vacation than during the school year, which led the researchers to wonder if being homebound would have a similar effect on the kids' lifestyle behaviours.
For the findings, published in the journal Obesity, the researchers surveyed 41 children and teens with obesity under confinement throughout March and April in Verona, Italy.
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.
The results confirmed the negative change in behaviour, 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.
Compared to behaviours 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 the 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 number of vegetables consumed remained unchanged, the study said.
"Recognising the 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," Faith said.
"Depending on the duration of the lockdown, the excess weight gained may not be easily reversible and might contribute to obesity during adulthood if healthier behaviours are not re-established," Faith added.
"This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults," the study author wrote.
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