COVID-19 lockdowns caused young Israel children’s weight to increase as they stayed at home, ate and watched TV

Being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic for many months on end resulted in many pre-schoolers to gain excessive weight, according to pediatricians at Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod and Ariel University in Samaria. Their findings, based on assessments of 117 boys and 112 girls up to the age of 18, have just been published in an article titled “Increased Weight Gain of Children during the Covid-19 Lockdown” published in the Israel Medical Association Journal (IMAJ). 

Unlike most countries during the pandemic, which is now – fortunately – petering out due to mass vaccination campaigns among adults and teens from the age of 16, kindergartens and schools were closed during most of the year. This was because Israel’s Health Ministry feared that young children would get infected, mostly without symptoms, and infect adults who were at much higher risk for serious complications. In addition, playgrounds, parks and outdoor trekking were prohibited and after-hours, non-formal education systems such as (gym classes, scouts and sports lessons were restricted to just 100 meters from home. 

These limitations, wrote Dr. Yonatan Yeshayahu, Dr. Michal Vinker-Shuster and Dr. Ephraim Grossman, created harmful effects not only on their physical condition but also on their psychological and social states. 

Spending most of their time at home increased their screen time and their eating of junk food, especially sweetened drinks and candy, and many fewer servings of vegetables and fruits. 

Between the first of May and the 30th of June, 2020, 400 children and teens visited the hospital’s outpatient clinics for various medical conditions. For the study, medical staffers weighted them and measured their height. The researchers found that while children from first through 12th grade did not gain a significant amount of weight, children younger than six – especially boys – showed “significant weight gain.” 

The fact that preschool boys gained more weight than the girls was explained by the fact that boys generally tend to have a more active and less sedentary lifestyle than girls, whose habits did not change much during the two-months lockdown. 

An editorial that accompanied the journal article, written by Drs. Rana Halloun and Ram Weiss of the pediatrics department of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, called the trend “alarming,” as greater degrees of obesity throughout children are “associated with clustering of cardiovascular risk factors, mostly driven by obesity-related insulin resistance. Obese mothers often produce overweight babies, and overweight and obese children become overweight and obese adults in 25% to 50% of cases, they continued. Therefore, eating too much can affect their health as preschoolers, later in children and as adults as well. Since it is rare for obese children to undergo bariatric surgery to make their stomachs smaller, there is little to do but prevent obesity both during their mother’s pregnancy and in the infant and toddler years. 

Inculcating young children to eat healthful food at a very young age, they concluded, will make a big difference in preventing overweight and promoting healthy teen years and adulthood.

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