Lockdown introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on childhood obesity, researchers have said.

Children who were already struggling with their weight have been eating and sleeping more during the enforced lockdown period and exercising much less when compared to their routines a year ago.

A team from the University at Buffalo studied 41 overweight children from Italy throughout March and April when the country was forced to go into lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Their findings found that the young people ended up eating an extra meal a day and slept for an extra half an hour on a daily basis.

In addition, they had swapped out exercise for an extra five hours a day screen-time their intake of red meat, junk food and sugary drinks was also significantly increase.

With obesity strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, these findings could impact the already spiralling numbers for the condition.

The study was led by Dr Steven Heymsfield, professor at the Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Dr Angelo Pietrobelli, professor at the University of Verona in Italy.

Co-author of the study Myles Faith, childhood obesity expert from the University at Buffalo, said: “The tragic COVID-19 pandemic has collateral effects extending beyond direct viral infection.

“Children and teens struggling with obesity are placed in an unfortunate position of isolation that appears to create an unfavourable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours.

“Recognising these adverse collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is critical in avoiding the depreciation of hard-fought weight control efforts among youths afflicted with excess weight.

“Depending on the duration of the lockdown, the excess weight gained may not be easily reversible and might contribute to obesity during adulthood if healthier behaviours are not re-established. This is because childhood and adolescent obesity tend to track over time and predict weight status as adults.”

The researchers are calling on experts to focus on introducing virtual healthy lifestyle programmes so families can be advised on taking appropriate lifestyle choices during lockdown periods.

The findings have been published in the Obesity journal.

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