Opinion: Coronavirus epidemic accelerates childhood obesity epidemic

Opinion: Coronavirus epidemic accelerates childhood obesity epidemic

August 10, 2022 | 14:00

Opinion: Coronavirus epidemic accelerates childhood obesity epidemic

Leonardo Salles de Almeida *

Weight gain among children and adolescents has been giving global warning signs for some decades. However, the situation has worsened in the last two years, with the covid-19 pandemic. This is what a study by the American magazine Jama, carried out by researchers at the University of Michigan with 191,000 children and adolescents in the United States, indicates.

In the 5-11 age group, the overweight and obesity rate jumped from 36.2% in March 2019 to 45.7% in January 2021, an average of 2.3 kilograms more per child. The percentages with Body Mass Index (BMI) were also well above the ideal among adolescents. From 12 to 15 years old, the index rose from 38.7% to 43.4%, with an average gain of 2.31 kilos; between 16 and 17, it went from 36.5% to 38.2%, with an average of 1 kilo more on the scale.

According to the researchers, this worrying scenario is associated with the increase in sedentary lifestyle, indirectly caused by isolation. At the same time, the quality of food has also worsened, with the spread of empty calorie intake, foods with low nutritional value and high fat and sugar, represented by the practical orders for snacks and pizzas for delivery and ultra-processed foods, such as cookies, instant noodles, ice cream, packaged snacks, frozen industrialized dishes and ready-made juices.

“Unfortunately, if we don’t change our eating patterns,
in less than ten years, Brazil could be the fifth
with the largest number of obese children and adolescents”

In Brazil, the most recent data on weight gain in children and adolescents are preliminary to the pandemic. But there is no risk in saying that the global uptrend is repeated here, accompanied by the repetition of behaviors. In 2019, we already had 30.8% of children and 31.4% of adolescents in a situation of overweight and obesity, according to data from the Ministry of Health. Now, everything indicates that we live in an even worse scenario, with greater risk to public health for several decades ahead, with increased risks of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, stroke and certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Not to mention low self-esteem and depression.

Unfortunately, if we do not change our eating patterns, in less than ten years, Brazil could be the fifth country with the highest number of obese children and adolescents, according to a dark but very realistic forecast by the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics.

Turning this game around requires implementing drastic changes in habits in children’s routines. Among them, regular physical activity – for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week –, restriction of high-calorie foods with low nutritional value, control of portions of healthy but caloric foods – such as whole-grain breads and nuts –, and increased intake of vegetables, greens, fruits and meals with more natural preparations.

“Now, everything indicates that we live in an even worse scenario, with greater health risk
collectively for several decades ahead, with increasing risks of development
diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, stroke and certain types of cancer”

In chronic cases, obese children and adolescents may also need to be followed up by a psychologist to deal with possible food compulsions linked to anxiety. Medications should be used for this age group only after all alternatives, let’s say, “organic”, have been frustrated. Resources such as the intragastric balloon and bariatric surgery are only allowed in Brazil for adolescents over 16 years of age, always with accurate examinations and medical care specialized in obesity.

It is also essential that the authorities create public policies to attack childhood obesity, with balanced diet plans in schools, stricter laws for the food industry and free health services for overweight children and adolescents. For its own collective good, the country needs to become aware of this real epidemic of early obesity, which can seriously compromise the future.

*Bariatric and digestive surgeon at the Instituto Mineiro de Obesidade (IMO) – [email protected]

Note: Signed articles do not necessarily reproduce the opinion of the newspaper Diário do Aço

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