COVID-19 upsets children’s habits? What are its effects on their weight?
June 8, 2020 | The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the daily lives of many families, and that in turn has made it harder for some children to keep up certain good habits. During a webinar organized by Obesity Canada on May 21st, experts talked about the potential repercussions of these changes on the body weight of children.
“School closings, social distancing and economic hardships have put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of parents and their children,” says Dr. Julie St-Pierre, a paediatrician and specialist of child obesity. The current situation creates new challenges in terms of children’s diets and physical activities.
Dr. Julie St-Pierre has noticed, in her practice, that families are worried. “They are asking for our help and want to talk about obesity.” Dr. Rena LaFrance, a child psychiatrist and clinical director at the Pediatric Centre For Weight & Health in Edmonton, reminds parents that they should avoid being too hard on themselves. “We are all doing the best we can in this situation, she says. You should not feel guilty or shamed. Do not think you can perfectly manage this pandemic. Some days will be better than others.”
The webinar’s experts have suggested a few tricks to promote healthy habits even during the pandemic.
Planning the week’s meals.
Ask older children to help prepare the groceries list, to prepare healthy snacks or to watch over the younger ones while their parents cook.
Take advantage of nice weather to go for a family walk.
Encourage children to go for a walk or bike ride with their friends while maintaining a safe distance between them.
Explain to children that screens are allowed only at certain times during the day and that outside of those periods, they must find something else to do.
Keep children occupied to reduce the urge to turn to a screen.
Support your children to reduce their anxiety, even if it is just a few comforting words.
Practise yoga or other relaxation activities with your children.
Avoid making comments or jokes about their weight gain. If you are worried about your own weight because of the pandemic, try to avoid talking about it in front of your children so that they do not also develop a negative body image.
Weight & Pandemic
According to Dr. Arya Sharma, a medicine professor at the University of Alberta and the science director of Obesity Canada, research has shown that children tend to have less healthy habits during the summer and that some of them gain weight.
And the pause created by this pandemic is very much like the summer vacations. “Things are less structured, confirms Dr. Rena LaFrance. Children have an increased access to the fridge. They re more sedentary and, potentially, spend more time in front of a screen.”
Dr. Julie St-Pierre reminds us that screens contribute to weight gain in more than one way. They increase the urge to snack and also expose children to choices that are not as good for their health due to the ads they see online. They also have an impact on sleep quality, which can contribute to obesity. (For ways to reduce the amount of time spent in front of a screen, read End of the quarantine: returning to a normal amount of screen time)
Moreover, a lot of children are dealing with uncertainty and do not know what is going to happen in the coming weeks. That can increase their anxiety level and change how they view food. Dr. Rena LaFrance says she has indeed noticed changes in the eating habits of children since the pandemic was declared. “Some eat their emotions, she says. Others eat out of boredom.”
Difficulty Accessing Healthy Foods
The pandemic has meant, for many people, a loss or reduction of their revenue. “This has a huge economic impact on families, says Dr. Arya Sharma, and that means accessing food can become a challenge for some.”
“When your revenue decreases, some foods become too expensive, adds Dr. Julie St-Pierre. Sadly, this problem is worsened by the pandemic. Many groceries shelves are empty and the food that is left is not always what is best for you.”
Source: Obesity Canada
Kathleen Couillard—Naître et grandir
Photo: GettyImages/Ricardo Alves