Ongoing corona crisis has a long-term impact on the lifestyle of children

The gap between children who live healthy and unhealthy increases only due to the corona crisis and the lockdowns. This results from the latest research by paediatricians of Maastricht UMC+ in collaboration with other Dutch hospitals. Paediatrician Anita Vreugenhil therefore promotes a national approach to improve the lifestyle of children.

Since the lockdown of March 2020 Vreugdenhil and her colleagues conduct research to the lifestyle of children in the COLC-study, (COVID-19, Obesity and Lifestyle of Children). Children and parents filled in forms at different times during the corona crisis. Thereby including eating patterns, amount of exercise, weight increase, sleep behaviour and involvement in online exercises. In September, the first research results already proved that a major part of the children was living unhealthier since the corona crisis: they were exercising less, consumed more snacks and increased in weight. During the last months, this trend appears to continue. Even when schools and sport clubs were open.

No recovery after the first lockdown
The latest research results based on the surveys of the last quarter of 2020, prove that half of the children still move significant less than before the pandemic. One in five children drinks more than three sugary drinks a day. Before the pandemic, this was still one in seven. Almost half of the children indicate that they sleep less than before the corona crisis. One in three sits more in front of a screen than before the pandemic. Many children pointed out that they increased in weight, especially children who were already overweight. This weight increase did not recover in the autumn of 2020 after the children went to school again. Paediatrician Anita Vreugdenhil: “And that is alarming. Overweight at a young age increase the risk of diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases and fatty liver.”

Gap in lifestyle increased
However, there is also good news. A smaller group of children actually started to live healthier during the pandemic. Almost 40% pointed out to exercise more, one in five eats more fruit, one in three drinks more water and many children consume less unhealthy snacks than before the corona crisis. “These are positive developments,” according to Vreugdenhil. “However it creates another problem: the gap between children who live healthy and unhealthy increases. Especially vulnerable children are affected in this crises. We need to be alert, as it is expected that this crisis will last for a while and it is not yet clear when secondary schools and sport clubs can open their doors.”

National approach
Vreugdenhil advocates therefore a ‘Deltaplan Jong & Gezond’, in which several disciplines cooperate to get children in a healthy manner out of the crisis. The current eat- and life behavior of children has been able to engrain for almost one year. This will not solve naturally. Therefore we need to act and work towards a joint approach of this problem. Health authorities, schools, sport centres, municipals, nutritionists and district teams need to make a joint effort and cooperate on a national and local level in order to get our children as healthy as possible out of this pandemic.”