It’s been challenging to stay healthy in lockdown, and we’re all find our way at the moment. As parents, how can we best support our children?
Lockdown health challenges
Overall increasing trend in the levels of obesity in children in the UK. A government report found:
“In the last year of primary school, on average, six children out of a class of thirty are obese and a further four are overweight, twice as many as thirty years ago. Obesity disproportionately affects children living in deprived areas and some ethnic minority groups”
How has lockdown affected levels of childhood obesity?
Because of the recent nature of the covid-19 crisis we don’t have many studies to evidence a changes in health in 2020 but so far there have been two research reports showing an increase in childhood obesity during lockdown.
As parents we were also stressed, worried and anxious, home schooling on top of working from home, so many of our normal patterns of eating and activity were changed.
All our best intentions had to take a back seat to reality.
One study in Italy covering 41 children showed that during lockdown there was an
- increase in consumption of red meat,
- increase in high calorie foods,
- increase in sugary foods and a
- decrease in physical exercise.
The children also slept half an hour more each day, and ate an extra meal each day.
This led to the children putting on more weight.
The government has an ambitious plan to reduce obesity by 2030
Their report highlighted our environment has made it harder for many children to maintain a healthy weight pre-Covid.
Unfortunately this has only become harder to manage for many of us during lockdown.
Lockdown health in children
Key factors affecting children’s health during lockdown are:
- Reduction in movement
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Reduction in sleep
- Access to snacks all day
- Reduction in school attendance removing the structure from children’s day
- Financial pressures reducing access to fresh food in the home
Mental health and lockdown
Children are resilient, and cope with so much, but lockdown has added pressures to all of us, and they are no exception. There are multiple studies showing an increase to mental health conditions during Covid-19.
An increase in depression, anxiety, self harming and obsessive behaviours has been shown around the world as we all struggle to cope with the changes.
Healthy sleep in lockdown
If your child is anxious or worried, this can disrupt sleep over the long term, which is strongly associated with weight gain and other metabolic conditions.
How to keep your kids healthy in lockdown
Be clear on boundaries
During lockdown many of your regular routines will have gone, and this can be disorientating for children.
- Be clear on new boundaries – if they get more screen time during lockdown, is it one extra hour, one extra programme? Set some limits so it’s not all uncertain for them.
- Children like to be useful and part of something bigger so one suggestion is to get them helping around the house. This can be very difficult to start, but micro-actions can help them see their place in the ecosystem of your home. They may enjoy washing windows, sweeping the floor if it’s a chance to do something with you.
- Keep to regular bedtimes and wake times that work for your family rather than chopping and changing times. This regularity helps children’s sleep.
Supporting connection an age appropriate way
The isolation of lockdown has been difficult for most people. Fostering a connection between you and your children will help them to deal with the uncertainty.
- This could be helping them to chat to friends online, via video calls or sending short messages to each other.
- Babies and younger toddlers may struggle to understand screen calls, but will be satisfied with your face, so try not to worry about them getting bored with you.
- You could practice letter writing as part of their home schooling, sending a letter in the post is exciting for small children
- Walking past a friends house at an agreed time to chat through the window from a distance can help to boost everyone’s mood (if safe to do so).
Exercise to build a stronger mind and body
Keeping the body moving will help to burn off some of the stress hormones, and provide a ‘reset’. It helps us feel a balance between all that thinking and worrying, and allows us to get out of our heads and back into our body again.
Children aged 5 and over should do an hour of exercise every day. Preschoolers should be moving for 3 hours a day, but this includes all the rushing about they do at home and doesn’t need to be formal exercise.
- Make movement a mandatory part of the day – this could be a mini workout like Joe Wicks, or Oti Mabuse from Strictly who offer free workouts online
- For smaller children CosmicKids yoga is a great way to get them moving with a story.
- Set challenges, how many star jumps can you do, or move like different animals across the floor or for tiny ones then making obstacle courses out of cushions and other objects can be fun.
- Get outside every day if you can.
- Join in wherever possible to show we all have to keep healthy.
Get outside every day
- Getting outside during daylight hours helps support better night-time sleep because it helps to sync our circadian rhythm.
- A walk, even in the rain, can help to change everyone’s mood
- Outside children will be able to run, shout and feel more ‘wild’ which helps them be calmer at home.
- If they aren’t keen to go out agree a compromise for when they get back (tv, reading a book together, playing a game) as well as age appropriately explaining the benefits to them.
Snack Attack – build nutrition in
- Aim for something fresh before something from a packet (so they need to eat fruit, some salad sticks etc) before any biscuits
- Baking together can help to create some healthier snacks
- Increase protein and fats in all meals to keep them fuller for longer. Add nuts and seeds, nut butter to an apple, Greek yoghurt with berries, or a boiled egg.
If you’re reading this feeling overwhelmed, then firstly that’s ok, we all have moments when we feel like we can’t cope with this situation, it is hard, so just accepting where you are right now is ok.
Secondly if you feel ready to make some changes, but don’t know where to start we can help you:
- Emotional support – Emma, our mother’s mentor offers a space to talk through your parenting issues and find clarity, practical strategies and confidence.
- Nutrition – Anna can create a tailored meal plan for your family, including dietary requirements, or exploring a child’s health concern to give you specific recommendations (e.g. constipation or eczema)
- Sleep – Emma is a holistic sleep coach and can give you a plan for your child’s bedtime routines, sleep habits or early waking.