The health crisis has had a significant effect on the risk of overweight and obesity in children

Among the multiple repercussions of the health crisis of the past two years, what has been its impact on the youngest? Confined for long weeks, with partially interrupted school attendance, less social interaction and physical activity, toddlers have also seen their daily lives greatly disrupted. A study, published Tuesday, April 26 in the Weekly epidemiological bulletin (BEH) released by the French public health agency, looks at the impact of the pandemic on the weight of young children. According to this survey, conducted across an entire department, Val-de-Marne, the health crisis has had a significant effect on overweight and obesity among 4-year-old children.

For this study, the Department’s Maternal Child Protection (PMI) research services relied on data from preschool health check-ups (BSEM), offered to all children attending middle school. It is therefore based on an almost exhaustive corpus of data for this age group in the department: 48,119 children for whom the data were complete, over three successive years, with an average age of 4.54 years.

These assessments, which make it possible to refer families to health professionals when follow-up is deemed useful, are also a mine of information for research. “The BSEMs make it possible to weigh, measure children, test their vision, their language… We are also fortunate to have access to previous databases and thus be able to make comparisons”says Dr. Marie-Laure Baranne, head of the studies, research, health certificates department of the PMI of Val-de-Marne and first author of the study.

A “professional alert”

Before the health crisis, just under 9% of 4-year-old children in the department were overweight and around 3% obese. In 2020-2021, the study shows that the share of overweight children increases significantly (+ 2.6%), as well as that of obese children (+ 1.8%) compared to the reference year 2018- 2019. Another piece of data: the “Z-score”, an indicator that measures the difference in body size in children with respect to the average value – the body mass index, used for adults, not being relevant in children – also increased significantly, from an average of 0.20 in 2018-2019 to 0.35 in 2020-2021.

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Unsurprisingly for a disease very strongly correlated with social inequalities, the PMI teams found that being educated in a priority or priority plus zone led to an increased risk of overweight and obesity. On the other hand, one observation surprised the departmental teams: “We found that the risk was higher in girls. This is a fact that we cannot explain in children of this age, observes Doctor Baranne. Later there may be a hormonal effect, but at age 4 this would be surprising. »

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