Youth, obesity and COVID-19
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that emerged in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as measures implemented to control the spread of the disease continue to impact the global population variably. Here you will find innovative research from the STOP project, and links to key information resources related to COVID-19. The pandemic is constantly evolving and we will endeavour to keep resources as current as possible. Youth are increasingly recognised as agents of change. Therefore, meaningful youth engagement should be a key component of national COVID-19 responses. This can be through youth groups; youth-led governance processes; youth voices & opinions; youth-led implementation and advocacy; youth leadership programmes; and youth-led innovative approaches. Remember with knowledge you have the power to be an agent for change!
While data suggests that older people are directly more severely affected by COVID-19, research from the STOP project (2018-2022) has found that COVID-19 has had an overall negative impact on children’s health.
STOP conducted research on the effect of pandemic-related movement restrictions on children’s physical fitness . The research carried out in Slovenia found that COVID-19 mitigation measures significantly reduced children’s opportunities to engage in daily physical activity, hindering their physical development. Analysis showed that physical fitness declined in two-thirds of Slovenia children after the first wave of the pandemic and continued to decline after the second wave. At the same time, body fat content increased in almost two thirds of youth.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had a profound negative effect on children’s physical fitness and childhood obesity has increased dramatically. The researchers concluded with a call for the development of policies that will ensure the maintenance of children’s physical activity in any future responses to pandemic situations.
Additionally, STOP researchers assessed the impact of the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's weight management interventions (2020-2021). STOP conducted interviews with families at three sites in Spain, Romania, and Sweden . Families reported that during COVID-19 restriction periods some children engaged in healthier eating and physical activity, while others engaged in comfort eating and a more sedentary lifestyle. Differences in children's obesity-related behaviours were closely related to differences in parents' practices, which were, in turn, linked to their emotional and social wellbeing. Notably, across all sites, parents' feeding and physical activity facilitation practices, as well as their emotional and social wellbeing, were embedded in household resilience. In resilient households, where parents had secure housing and employment, they were better able to adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic, whereas parents who experienced household insecurity found it more difficult to cope . Consequently, STOP researchers have highlighted secure housing and employment are integral for reducing the impact of pandemics on children’s diet and physical activity.
Below are the scientific papers in which the research above was communicated:
 Grašić et al. Decline in physical fitness and increase of obesity in children following COVID-19 mitigation measures. Scientific Reports (in Review)
 Nowicka P, Ek A, Jurca-Simina I. E, Bouzas C, Argelich E, Nordin K, Garcia S, Vasquez Barquero M. Y, Hoffer U. Reijs Richards H, Tur J, Chirita-Emandi A, Eli K. Explaining the complex impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children with overweight and obesity: a comparative ecological analysis of parents' perceptions in three countries. BMC Public Health. 2022;22(1):1000. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13351-1.
World Obesity Policy Dossier
Non-communicable diseases have been highlighted by the World Health Organization as a risk factor for becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. Among them, emerging evidence seems to suggest that obesity is a key risk factor for COVID-19 complications. World Obesity has been collating known evidence and materials pertaining to Obesity/NCDs and the current outbreak of COVID-19. We will aim to provide an overview of the latest available information regarding any new associations between COVID-19 and obesity and its comorbidities. Interested in reading the latest available evidence and learning what countries around the world are doing? Access the full dossier here!
COVID-19 vaccine advice Safe and effective vaccines are available that provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Check out each specific vaccine type for information about sutiablity for children and adolescents. e.g. The Pfizer BioNTech
- Q&A: Adolescents, youth and COVID-19 (WHO) The World Health Organization, along with other governmental agencies, has compiled a list of questions and answers specifically for adolescents and youth with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF’s Coronavirus Toolkit for young people to spread awareness and take action
The current pandemic can be scary and confusing, with increased amount of information shared daily on news sites and social media. To help identify useful resources and fight misinformation, UNICEF has developed a toolkit that includes a set of actions that youth can take to spread awareness and take action against COVID-19.
Join Voices of Youth – a global platform for young people, by young people
Voices of youth if UNICEF’s digital community for youth, by youth.
NCD Child #YouthCOVIDChat campaign
To support youth during these challenging times, NCD Child has launched a social media campaign on Twitter, the #YouthCOVIDChat campaign, to “provide a platform for young people living with or at risk of NCDs to share their stories and experiences during COVID-19.”
Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action
The goal of the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action is to protect youth while also acknowledging their key role in a positive COVID-19 response. In addition to briefs and guidance, they have also produced a number of youth-friendly resources.
COVID-19 Youth Platform (UNMGCY)
The United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) Platform aims to “give visibility to youth initiatives responding to COVID-19 and to the health, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic.”
Statement on COVID-19 & Youth
The United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (UN IANYD) calls to recognise the role and need to include youth in the long-term response to COVID-19.
Youth and COVID-19: Response, Recovery and Resilience
Based on a survey conducted a survey with 90 youth organisations across 48 different countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies some of the measures governments can take to ensure they design fair, inclusive recovery measures from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that no one is left behind.
Together, UNFPA and Prezi are committed to teaching youth around the world about COVID-19. This resource includes a number of videos looking at a variety of topics ranging from basic explanations of COVID-19 to some of the potential mental health consequences and offer tips and tools to deal with this difficult situation.
As highlighted by WHO, young people are not immune or safe from COVID-19. All age groups are susceptible to catch COVID-19. While evidence to date suggests that children and adolescents are less likely to get severe illness from the disease, the evidence remains slim and youth should follow the recommended guidance to protect themselves, their families, peers and broader community.
As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “although older people are hardest hit, younger people are not spared. Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalisation. Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible.”
While evidence is still emerging, it seems to suggest that obesity may be a risk factor for severe outcomes and complications of COVID-19. A report by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in the US suggests that 48% of people hospitalised with COVID-19 were also affected by obesity and a study in France found that people in critical care with COVID-19 were 1.89 times more likely to have obesity than the general public. Interested in learning more about the latest evidence? Click here.
As data emerges on the risks of COVID-19 complications associated with obesity, countries are starting to include people with obesity on their list of vulnerable populations who should take extra precautions. It is not yet clear what BMI cut-offs are most appropriate, however France has opted for BMI >30, while UK and Mexico are using BMI >40. By including obesity on the vulnerable list, it prioritises people with obesity for testing and care and demonstrates the links between obesity and COVID-19 outcomes are being recognised. As strict lockdown measures ease, the conditions listed on vulnerable lists will become more relevant and have a greater impact on behaviours for those affected. Learn more about what governments around the world are doing here.
While obesity is a complex disease that takes years to develop, we could potentially see weight gain amongst adults and children for some time after the lockdown, particularly amongst the most vulnerable groups. As a result of lockdown measures, self-isolation and quarantine, it is likely that our diets have changed. In many countries around the world, households stockpiled, at the beginning of the pandemic, on non-perishable items which can be higher in fat, sugar and salt. In some places, are also witness a rise in the price of fruits and vegetables.
Our levels of physical activity are also likely to be impacted by the restrictions, not only due to people having less opportunities to exercise but because we are less active during the day. Furthermore, social distancing is likely to have an impact on mental health which we know can also contribute to overweight and obesity.
Weight stigma refers to the discriminatory acts and ideologies targeted towards individuals because of their weight and size. Stigma can result in a variety of adverse emotional and physical effects. Research has shown that due to weight stigma, some people living with obesity have reported engaging in selective social isolation. Within the context of COVID-19, this may lead them to avoid or delay accessing healthcare services, even when experiencing symptoms. The appropriate behaviour and support from health professionals is therefore more important than ever. Obesity Canada has provided a number of suggestions of what healthcare providers, policymakers and researchers can do in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure people living with obesity receive the appropriate care. These can be viewed here. You can also learn more about weight bias and obesity stigma by taking a look at our short video exploring why weight stigma can be dangerous!
As youth represent the largest age group of the population globally, they have the potential to make a huge difference in curbing the spread of COVID-19. As we are going through difficult times and the situation is rapidly changing, there are a few things you can do to help you get through this:
- Stay informed: visit the World Health Organization’s website for the latest updates on the evolution of the pandemic.
- Take care of your health: Adopt all the appropriate hygiene measures, but also ensure that you maintain a healthy and balanced diet, get enough sleep and daily physical activity. Furthermore, ensure to take care of your mental health.
- Take action
It is more important than ever that people with obesity have access to information and resources to support them. There is a wide range of resources and materials available which can be viewed here.