According to a joint survey conducted by the Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Pediatric Foundation, released on June 23, 2022, the overweight and obesity rates of Hong Kong children have nearly doubled as the pandemic continues. With schools on stay-at-home orders due to coronavirus infections, children’s living habits have been disrupted significantly.
Pediatricians warn parents to correct their children’s living habits as soon as possible so their health won’t be negatively impacted.
Dr Lilian Wong Hiu-Lei, Secretary of Hong Kong pediatric foundation shared one of her patient cases as an example, “This patient was a 7 years old boy who weighed 29.5kg in 2020. A week ago he came for medical treatment due to respiratory tract issues. He weighed 52.5kg, similar to an adult and he has already reached the bar of child obesity. The boy’s parents were only aware that the son had gained weight but were shocked by the figure.”
Obesity rates spike in primary and secondary school students. Most children’s lifestyles have to change, she said.
The joint online survey began in mid-May 2022 for a month. A total of 1,439 parents of kindergarten and primary school students in Hong Kong were asked about their understanding of any health impact of the children’s lifestyle changes during the pandemic. The survey results found that the rates of overweight or obesity among school children had soared sharply from 4.8 percent before the pandemic, to 13.5 percent, currently, which is an increase of 1.8 times.
Due to public places requiring tests, many parents cannot go out to eat. So instant noodles and snacks became regular meals in the household. The survey suggested that there is an increase in children who consume soda and snacks from 36 percent previously to 55 percent. About 70 percent of the interviewees said their children would snack while watching TV or using mobile devices; almost 60 percent said children eat more due to boredom and being stuck in the house all day, resulting in weight gain.
The pandemic has prompted schools to shut down. Over 50 percent of the parents commented that their children’s sleep patterns have changed, which affects their dietary habits. Children started to sleep and wake up later, missing breakfast. Their lunches, therefore, are up-sized. Furthermore, most public places have been closed during the pandemic. Compared to pre-pandemic, 84 percent of the children have decreased their outdoor activities. 60 percent have minimized their extracurricular activities, while 90 percent have been using electronic devices regularly for studying.
Wong believed that the drastic changes in children’s lifestyles could cause long-term effects. They might be at risk of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia.
Wong stated that the changes in lifestyles might also cause long-term effects on their emotional and social skills.
Dr Albert Martin Li Man-chim, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, expressed that parents should adjust their children’s lifestyles without further delay.
The study also found that elevated stress in parents, impacts their relationship with their children, which influences their children’s happiness index.
Dr Wong said, children’s happiness index and health index during the pandemic shows that the health index is 7.62 points, which is 0.89 points lower than before the pandemic at 8.51 points.
She then explained that the happiness index seems to be related to stress in parents. For parents who are less stressed, the children’s happiness index is 7.6, which is 11 percent lower than before the pandemic at 8.55. The index for children with parents with elevated stress is 5.58 points. Children were happier before the pandemic as the current index dropped by 35 percent.
In the face of coronavirus, parents have been facing tremendous challenges. The survey shows that 63 percent of interviewees have been spending more on buying food. Stress levels in 20 percent of the parents reach between 9 and 10.
Dr Wong concluded that whenever parents are under pressure, the happiness index of the children will decrease. Sometimes parents’ distress will lessen the time they spend with their children, causing relationships to be distant. Parent’s mental health and children’s physical health go hand in hand.