The long confinement decreed in many countries as a measure to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), as well as the lack of physical activity and changes in eating habits, could be a trigger for an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity , according to researchers and public health experts.
Scientific studies carried out worldwide —mainly in the United States and Europe— warn of these consequences in both adults and children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English), the prevalence of obesity among adults is 42.4% and 19.3% in youth under 19 years.
However, health experts have warned that the prevalence could increase much more after the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the daily routine of millions of people worldwide and has increased sedentary lifestyle. In the case of Puerto Rico, doctors interviewed by THE SPOKESMAN they have mixed opinions on the subject.
“Certainly a sedentary lifestyle will increase the conditions associated with not doing enough exercise, which include obesity and other health conditions associated with this problem,” said the pediatrician and president of the College of Surgeons, Víctor Ramos.
In an interview with this medium, Ramos indicated that more and more young people are observed, for example, with health conditions that are associated with adults. He added that these are conditions that are not always seen in the short term, but in the long term, including type 2 diabetes and essential hypertension. “They are diseases that when I started doing pediatrics we never saw,” he said.
“Worse nutrition” in the pandemic
“Dehydrated children have come to us – associated with the pandemic. We understand that there has been worse nutrition in the pandemic. We believe that you are not having the best diet due to the circumstances, but that is not something you will see in a short time. We see in pediatric patients —which we never saw before— situations that are usually associated with adults, such as type 2 diabetes. Normally, children have type 1 diabetes or what we call essential hypertension, which is the high blood pressure that it gives to adults , that there is no specific cause ”, he said.
It is estimated that in the United States, 19.3% of children between the ages of two to 19 years in the United States are obese, while 15.3% of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese and 15.5% are overweight, according to the State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America 2020 report, published by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), covering the period 2017-2018.
The 100-page document also notes that the Covid-19 pandemic created new obstacles and exacerbated existing barriers for children and adults to have a healthy diet and better physical activity. The report refers to the closing of gyms in the middle of the quarantine, the reduction of food purchases due to loss of income and the interruption of the school meal program.
Therefore, it is proposed to support a public policy at the level of the United States and its territories that meets the nutritional needs of families and safe physical activity, since it is noted that the highest rate of hospitalization and mortality during the pandemic is related to patients with a positive diagnosis for Covid-19, which in turn have conditions such as obesity and other chronic diseases.
However, in Puerto Rico, opinions about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected eating habits are mixed. For example, Sandra Ortiz Rosado, a nutritionist and dietician, expressed to THE SPOKESMAN You have had patients who have followed the meal plan, yet there are others who have done the opposite.
Ortiz Rosado has had patients who have decided to follow them up virtually to clarify doubts and not get stuck in the program. Meanwhile, others have had initial visits – also in a virtual way – because they anticipated that this Covid-19 situation was going to spread and they did not want to have a negative effect, in terms of gaining weight or having their health conditions get out of control.
“I have had the one that —as it is at home— has made it easier for them to control the meals, the schedule, what they cook, and they have been able to keep the plan that had already begun. This is in the case of (the patients) who were already with me, who already had a base, a food plan to follow, some guidelines. But I also have the other extreme, which is that they forgot everything they were doing and eat all the time, because anxiety makes them eat everything they see all the time, “added Ortiz Rosado.
Based on the statistics in Puerto Rico, that 67% of the population is between overweight and obesity, Ortiz Rosado added that “we can understand that most people do not exercise and do not take care of their diet. If to that you add a confinement, the anxiety that many cause to channel it with food, because we are talking about a significant percentage of the population ”.
For her part, the pediatric endocrinologist Marina Ruiz Montilla indicated that she has not seen an increase in the condition of diabetes among her patients, but “there has been a lot of weight gain, but there are also children who have taken this time and have had fun changing their eating habits in a good way and doing exercises ”.
Ruiz Montilla emphasized the importance of creating a healthy eating habit among children as a family. “We are going to teach the children to eat well, more vegetables, more fruits. Try to make an exercise plan among everyone and that everyone can be motivated because that is the most important thing, that not only the child changes, but everyone in the house so that the child has greater success, “he added.