Sedentary pandemic habits fuel surge in childhood obesity


An extra 56,000 children in England are leaving primary school obese due to habits embedded during the pandemic, a large study has found.

During 2020–2021 there were steep increases in overweight and obesity prevalence in children of all ages. But a new study has revealed that whereas by 2022 this had returned to expected levels in reception aged children, for 10-11 year olds it was four percentage points higher than expected.  Not only this but the increase was twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived.

Experts said this was probably because while younger children reverted to healthier lifestyles, in many older children, poor eating habits, insufficient exercise and harmful levels of screen time had become embedded. The figures expose the “profound” and “alarming” long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic, they said.

Their study, published in the journal PLOS One, also found that the sharp uptick, affecting 56,000 extra children, would mean an additional lifelong healthcare cost in this cohort will amount to £800 million with a cost to society of £8.7 billion. U

Prof Mark Hanson, an emeritus professor of human development and health at Southampton and a co-author of the study, told the Guardian that the figures warranted immediate action and that new policies should be aimed at the under-fives, given that in some cases obesity in older children “may be impossible” to escape. “Once established, obesity has proven to be difficult to reverse. Some 60%-85% of children with obesity remain obese in adulthood, increasing their risks of future ill-health.”

More on this story is in the Guardian or the research paper is available for free here.

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