by Kristina Murkett
Tuesday, 15
February 2022
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16:31

Another effect of lockdown: childhood obesity

New data shows a major uptick in severely obese children
by Kristina Murkett
Credit: Getty

The pandemic may be apparently over, but it seems we have a new epidemic on our hands: childhood obesity. The government has just released its latest data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), and the results are staggering. 

The percentage of overweight, obese or severely obese Reception children (aged 4-5) has remained relatively stable between 2006 and 2019, with less than 1% difference in all three categories. However, since 2019 there has been a noticeable uptick of around 4 to 5% for overweight and obese children, while the number of severely obese children has doubled. A similar trend can be seen for children in Year 6, where 41% of children are now classified as overweight or obese, compared to 35% in 2019.

There has also been a dramatic increase in the deprivation gap too: 33.8% of Year 6 children living in the most deprived areas are now obese, compared to 14.3% in the least deprived areas. For context, in 2006 the deprivation gap was only 4.5%.

In some ways these sharp increases are unsurprising, given that the pandemic saw the closure of playgrounds, swimming pools, school fields, gyms, extracurricular activities, outdoor socialising and every other opportunity for children to engage in physical activity. Studies have shown that pandemic stress made it much harder for parents to manage their children’s eating habits, and without the emotional reassurance of routines many children turned to comfort eating. 

This trend is hardly limited to the UK; one study, which looked at Italy, Spain, Chile, Colombia and Brazil, found that teenagers in these countries now eat far more fried food and sweets than before the pandemic, while a US survey found that over half of children were eating fewer fruits and vegetables. Similarly, Canadian researchers found that during lockdowns less than 5% of primary school children were doing an hour of physical activity a day.

Restrictions may be lifting, but habits are hard to break; the challenge is now to think about how to reverse these sedentary lifestyles of screen-time and snacking. Infancy and childhood are crucial times for establishing healthy eating habits, and inadequate nutrition at an early age can have lifelong repercussions; for example, even before the pandemic, the number of children with diabetes had increased by 14% between 2015 and 2019.

Although it is easy to blame restaurants, takeaways and fast-food outlets for childhood obesity, the pandemic has proven that we also need to look at what children are eating at home in order to understand how obesity and malnutrition can co-exist. Ultra-processed, high-calorie, low-nutrient supermarket foods took up a greater proportion of calorie intake during the pandemic, and the government needs to continue thinking about ways in which they can work with supermarkets to reduce these temptations.

But the time has also come for us to make tackling childhood obesity a national priority, or we risk a whole generation of young people whose morbidity, life expectancy and life chances have been impacted not by Covid, but our response to it.

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George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago

what’s the opposite of unforeseen consequences ? completely foreseeable consequences? if SAGE can’t even predict the obvious , forcing kids to stay inside leads to inactivity, what are they for?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I can’t dwell on the stupidity and madness of it too long or I will get depressed. Then I am no good to anyone else. And the best thing we can be right now is useful to others.

J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

And the best thing we can be right now is useful to others.
There’s a lot wisdom in that observation. We’ve been isolated so long, and we’ve had too much opportunity to dwell on our problems. Not surprisingly levels of depression and anxiety are way up.
One of the best ways to put your troubles in perspective, and to dispel anxiety, is to help others. It takes you out of yourself and puts your own problems in perspective.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

“I can’t dwell on the stupidity and madness of it too long or I will get depressed. Then I am no good to anyone else. And the best thing we can be right now is useful to others.”

Wrong! The Brave Truckers in Canada, the brave Doctors and people on Youtube, and so on – they are Fighting. They are not whimpering under their bed in abject fear and being depressed – That is being no good to anyone. Good people doing nothing, looking on the bright side instead, that is when the bad wins.

James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

SAGE=Churlish Unhinged Negative Twins

Peter Steven
Peter Steven
4 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Why Twins?
Is this Autocorrect’s view of twits?

James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Steven

I think that when I said “twits” it was “pending approval.” Since my posts are so important, indeed essential, I couldn’t risk it. I compromised but only to share with the UnHerd crowd.
Completely agree with you.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

The opposite to unforeseen consequences?

INTENDED CONSEQUENCES

“young people whose morbidity, life expectancy and life chances have been impacted not by Covid, but our response to it.”

Come on – the Response to covid was 1000X more harmful than the disease! 1000X More!

Dr McCullough says, under oath, that using medicines we have, and treatments, 95% of all who died of Covid could have been saved! Ninety Five Percent! Using the combination of the Vaccine and then NO early care, but just hospital once critical illness was reached, killed 19 people for every one it saved compared to early treatments with re-purposed medicines, vitamins, steroids, antihistamines, and nasal/pharynx wash!!!!!!!

Bobby Kennedy, Dr Malone, and thousands of other doctors agree. These deaths, this disaster, is on the response – not the virus. Go back to Dr Bret Weinstein for hours and hours of super intelligent explanations of how this is the case. ( he has been here 3 times, on Unherd) https://www.youtube.com/c/BretWeinsteinDarkHorse

Andrew D
Andrew D
4 months ago

Idea for TV show. Take all members of SAGE to some remote island location, release them, and then unleash a coachload of fat kids to hunt them down. Call it Lard of the Fries.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago

I’m sickened by how awful and how predictable all of this is. Sickened. Just sickened.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

This is just the beginning….

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I know.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

There is literally nothing being done about this. I know that it should be partly the job of parents to moderate boundaries for diet & activity but there is no interest from Government. Poor health both mental & physical, poor prospects, and a future of debt ridden lives for all children & young people who will live here, work here and get absolutely no investment or interest from anyone in government. What the hell are they doing anyway apart from obsessing over their f****ing reputations?

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
4 months ago

LOL like they give a flying eff about the kids.

Dylan Regan
Dylan Regan
4 months ago

Stop being a fuc*ing nanny. Let parents decide what their kids eat. People’s kids aren’t the state’s kids. Leave them alone