Under the covid lockdowns, obesity and overweight among Swedish three- and four-year-olds increased significantly, a new study shows. Children in poor areas were worst affected by the shutdown policy, with the proportion of overweight three- and four-year-olds rising from 9.5% to 12.4%.
Researchers from Uppsala University and elsewhere have reviewed Child Care surveys of more than 25 000 children in Dalarna, Jönköping and Södermanland counties, and note that young children in Sweden became significantly fatter during the corona crisis.
The proportion of three-year-old girls with obesity increased from 2.8 to 3.9 percent during the shutdowns, and the proportion of boys with obesity from 2.4 to 2.6 percent. Among four-year-olds, “statistically significant increases in BMI” were also noted – and both boys and girls became more obese.
In so-called “socio-economically deprived areas”, children were hit hardest, with the proportion of overweight three- and four-year-olds rising from 9.5% to 12.4%, while the proportion of obese children increased from 2.4% to 4.4%.
– This is probably due to changes in physical activity patterns and perhaps also to the intake of sweets and other foods. It is known that sales of sweets went up during the pandemic. There are also some other studies from other countries that showed that screen time increased during the pandemic, says Anton Holmgren, a pediatrician at the pediatric clinic in Halland, who was involved in leading the study.
– It is frightening that even at such a young age there are class differences linked to the risk of overweight and obesity, he adds.
If Sweden, like many other countries in Europe, had kept preschools completely closed, Holmgren believes that obesity among young children would have increased even more than it actually has.
– Probably it is a smaller increase in Sweden than in some other countries, but it was still an increase and we think it is because there were strict restrictions against having a cold in kindergarten. There were a lot of children at home.
– Then there were probably a lot of parents who got worried and did more than was really required. There were also reports from socio-economically deprived areas that the nurseries were empty, there were many children who were away from nurseries for long periods of time,” he continues.
No particular increases in BMI were noted among five-year-olds.