Sedentary lockdowns put kids at risk for obesity. Here's how to help them stay moving

Pandemic lockdowns have led to an increase in the amount of junk food and red meat that children are consuming, according to a new study.

(CNN)Canceled soccer practices. Shuttered dance rehearsals.

With worldwide lockdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the normal rites and rituals of childhood and adolescence froze.
Children around the world were stuck at home, slipping into more video game playing, more television watching and more just sitting around. It's a natural progression, especially when there's not much to do during a lockdown.
Lockdowns could be putting kids at higher risk for becoming overweight or obese, according to an observational study recently published in the journal Obesity.
    The study analyzed 41 children with obesity under lockdown in Verona, Italy, during March and April, whose activities had previously been monitored last year, prior to the pandemic.
    The Italian children in the study were already enrolled in a treatment program for obesity, regularly filling out behavioral questionnaires designed to tease out how they were faring related to known obesity risk factors.
    Compared with last year, the subjects are eating an additional meal each day and sleeping an extra half hour daily. Whether it be for school or for staying in touch with friends, they're spending five hours more than usual in front of screens, and they're eating significantly more junk food and red meat. Finally, the kids spent two fewer hours each week engaging in physical activity.
    "Along came Covid-19 unexpectedly, and it really turned lifestyles upside down for many, many families," said Myles Faith, a professor of education at the University at Buffalo and a coauthor on the study.
    The behavioral shifts in the overweight kids observed in this study are the same red flags obesity researchers have been studying for years. For instance, studies have shown that the prevalence of obesity grows only during summer recess. That weight gain is more common in Hispanic and African American populations, and it can accrue from summer to summer.
    Faith pointed to a recent perspective shared in Obesity explaining that Covid-19 lockdowns exhibit the same established characteristics underlying predictable summer increases in childhood obesity.
    But doubling down on habits that science knows can help your family reestablish a healthy lifestyle and stay active despite the quarantine, he noted.

    Experts offer tips on curbing childhood obesity

    The most important way that families can push back together against less healthy lockdown habits is by creating a culture within the household centered on healthy living.
    Faith ticked off a handful of tips that could be useful in helping talk to your kids and create habits that step around obesity.
    Healthier foods at home: It's important to limit the number of junk foods or other less healthy options available and prevent children from eating too many junky snacks.
    For kids with a penchant for the sweet or salty, it's possible to build on it in a more positive direction.
    If your kids find ranch dressing delicious, for instance, pair it with more nutritious foods such as broccoli or carrots to make them more appealing, said Alexis Wood, an assistant professor of nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine and author of a new American Heart Association statement on children's dietary habits.
    Role modeling: To paraphrase Gandhi, you can be the change you see in your family, starting with more walks and runs. "Kids are more likely to follow along" if they see you eating healthy foods, Faith said.
    Limit screen time: With schoolwork, activities and regular social time shifting to video chats, screen time is on the rise. Experts recommended parents still try to limit how much time kids spend looking at phones, computers and TV screens. But keep in mind that not all screen time is created equal, especially if kids need screens as a vital social outlet.
    The UK's Royal College of Pediatrics and Health released guidelines last year recommending that parents build families activities around screen time, in order to get a firmer handle on the phenomena.
    Eat family meals together: Breaking bread together has long been a tentpole of strong family dynamics, according to child development specialists. With more people working at home during the pandemic, this one may be easier to keep up than before the pandemic.