Study finds increase in obesity among 3- to 4-year-olds during pandemic

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WASHINGTON: the findings of a recent study suggest that during the Covid-19 pandemic an increase in obesity was seen in children between the ages of three and four.

The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, is based on data concerning 25,049 children aged three to five who have undergone regular health checks at child health centres. The counties taking part were Dalarna, Jonkoping, and Sormland.

Previous studies in this area have often focused on children of school age or in countries with tighter restrictions than Sweden during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this country, activities at preschool and compulsory school (up to age 16) continued broadly as usual.

The study was headed by Anton Holmgren, a research associate in paediatrics at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and Anna Falt, a researcher in child health and parenthood at Uppsala University.
Significant rise in BMI

The study documents a statistically significant rise in the BMI (body mass index) of three-year-olds during the pandemic. Among the girls, the proportion of obesity rose from 2.8 per cent before to 3.9 per cent during the pandemic. For the boys, the corresponding proportions were 2.4 and 2.6 per cent.

The proportion of three-year-old girls with what is usually classified as normal weight declined from 82.6 per cent before to 80.9 per cent during the pandemic. There was no corresponding change in normal weight status in the group of three-year-old boys.

Among the four-year-olds, there was a significant increase in BMI. Obesity rose in girls and boys alike: Overweight rose from 11.1 to 12.8 per cent of girls, while underweight boys fell from 2.0 to 1.4 per cent. The group of five-year-olds showed no BMI changes.

BMI changes and socioeconomic status were found to be associated, most clearly among children in the most disadvantaged areas. There, the proportion of three- and four-year-olds overweight rose from 9.5 to 12.4 and with obesity from 2.5 to 4.4 per cent, while the proportion with normal weight decreased.

Socioeconomic variables were measured using an established method, the Care Need Index (CNI), which classifies expected care requirements based on education level; the proportion of unemployed or in labour-market programs; the proportion of single parents; and the proportion born outside the western world.

“Although Sweden didn’t have a lockdown in the same way as many other countries during the pandemic, the incidence of overweight and obesity increased in three- and four-year-olds, and even at such a young age the socioeconomic differences are evident,” said Anton Holmgren, the study’s corresponding author.

“The study highlights the need for further efforts and interventions to prevent childhood obesity, especially in areas of lower socioeconomic status,” he said. (ANI)

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