There will be a huge number of obese children after the end of the pandemic

Experts, horrified by the results of measurements at systematic examinations in more than a hundred primary schools, warned last summer that we already had a large number of children in Slovenia who became obese after the first wave of the epidemic.


Children often alleviate their emotional distress with food. Also and especially during a pandemic and the hardships associated with it.

“We distinguish two types of obesity: peripheral, where fat accumulates mainly on the buttocks, thighs and shoulders, and central, where fat accumulates around the waist. In central obesity, fat accumulates in both the organs and the abdominal cavity, so that it interferes with the functioning of the abdominal organs as well as the functioning of the chest organs by pressing upwards, ”explains dr. Magdalena Urbančič. A major problem that is rarely pointed out is the locomotor system, which finds it difficult to normally follow the increased weight, and there are also severe orthopedic problems, which rarely occur in childhood, but are then very common in adolescence.

Even today, however, it is a frightening thought how many children with increased body weight or extreme obesity will be discovered after the end of the second wave of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, about 20 percent of children in Slovenia were overweight.

Doctors warn that proper nutrition and physical activity are at high risk during an epidemic and measures to prevent the spread of infections. It’s not just about excess calories, overeating in the home environment is also associated with children’s emotional distress. Dr. Magdalena Urbančič, a specialist in pediatrics at the Center for the Treatment of Children’s Diseases in Šentvid near Stična, is convinced that restricting physical activity during a pandemic due to school closures, a ban on organized sports and a ban on socializing in public places will eventually take its toll.

Poor family conditions are also a cause of obesity

“After the first wave of the epidemic, pediatricians in hospitals detected more patients and more, especially severe obesity in children. Even those who were already involved in a healthy lifestyle program before the first wave of the pandemic have given in to the implementation of the program. After the first wave of the pandemic, we suddenly had no more children with ‘simple obesity’ due to excess calories, but each of them was burdened with a bunch of unresolved issues. Parents saw the cause mainly in school workloads, and at the secondary health care level we already knew that eating disorders are related to many psychological factors and family conditions, “he said. explains Magdalena Urbančič. Restrictive measures due to the pandemic have significantly affected the most important parts of children’s lives. According to the interlocutor, it is unacceptable for children to be at home for so long – the longest of all children in Europe.

According to her, family relationships were also affected by the fact that the role of parents had to change suddenly, from a loving parent to a strict teacher, educator and maintainer. “The basic routine of the children changed, but they did not know and were not able to balance their eating and exercise habits. Many children who had weight at the ceiling before the pandemic and were involved in various sports clubs did not even notice that they were overeating. During this time, they stopped moving, stayed at home, did not socialize with their peers, and so soon became overweight children. Those with previously expressed obesity have mostly gained a lot of weight. “ The consequences of the pandemic and accompanying measures will probably be seen in children, who are one of the most vulnerable groups due to their developmental characteristics and needs. “For some, sports and social activities and a healthy environment may be enough. In my opinion, most of them will need the help of psychologists, psychotherapists and, of course, child psychiatrists, “ emphasizes Urbančič.

Fears and cramps “feed” obesity

Dr. Primož Kotnik from the Pediatric Clinic in Ljubljana, one of the leading Slovenian experts in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, especially overweight, agrees that the lives of Slovenian children changed significantly during the coronavirus pandemic. “The time in which children are suitably physically active has been significantly reduced. By appropriate I mean not only long enough, but also intense enough. School plays an important role for many children here. At the same time, the time when they are physically inactive and exposed to screens has significantly increased. That the physical competence of children during the pandemic was critically reduced was also objectively determined by experts at the Faculty of Sports. In addition, the health of children is strongly affected by the chronic negative stress they experience during a pandemic. Fear for one’s own health, for the health of loved ones, lack of social contacts with peers, uncertainty about the course of school lead to congestion, which can in itself be the cause of the development of obesity and complications associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. “

Too little will and even less organization

Parents say children eat and drink more than they need during distance learning. Food is more accessible as they have it within reach at all times, while it is only available at certain times during school hours and is balanced. Children who have not mastered eating habits certainly eat more. These foods do not consume energy because they have too little opportunity to move. In more than half of the children, an increase in subcutaneous fat was found after the first wave of the pandemic. In children, the intake of simple carbohydrates in foods rich in sugar is particularly problematic, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Poverty is also a cause of obesity

“In my work, I also face poverty, especially now, during the pandemic. Parents do not have a regular income or they are too small to normally provide adequate food that would contain all the ingredients for the normal growth of the child. However, I would like to point out that whenever we talk about losing weight in children, parents first think about a weight loss diet. All parents first ask us about menus, and we teach them how a meal should be composed, how often and how much it should be. Unfortunately, there is too much off-season food available, and the child needs to be offered seasonal vegetables and fruits, which is best for them. This means tomatoes in summer and cabbage in winter. Even simple ingredients can be used to prepare delicious and appropriate food. There is no need to eat meat on a daily basis. Protein can also be obtained from other foods that are added to seasonal vegetables and fruits, “ added Magdalena Urbančič.

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