Covid 19 Pandemic - Is It A Start Of Obesity And Depression Crisis?

Pandemic or no pandemic, India has seen a steady rise in childhood and adolescent obesity and depression for a few years. 

The change in lifestyle and technology that stealthily crept in to become a necessity for survival sums up the reason for the two major health concerns.

With the Covid-19 pandemic and the precariousness associated with it, depression and obesity in children of all age groups are disturbing parents across the country. The prevailing uncertainty still hovering above us, resurfacing lockdowns and restricted outdoor movements are affecting everyone's mental health. 

Why and How is the pandemic creating a crisis in the form of Obesity and Depression?

There has been a consistent rise in obesity in children and adolescents for a few years now. As per the report of UNICEF, the number of overweight children has increased almost bi-fold in the last 15 years. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the experts are reporting an even more alarming acceleration in obesity and depression. 

Do you know that since last year, the number of patients diagnosed with depression has shocked the system? The underlying cases of depression that were on the initial and hibernation stage have triggered and come out due to the social isolation in lockdown. 

Depression at an early age is linked with mental comorbidities in future.

The major causes of rising obesity and depression in children are categorized broadly in these four points. These points are now embedded so much into our routines, that we hardly notice them and recognizing them before it is too late is now paramount.

1) Technology Over-Usage

Technology came as a boon in these dire times. Work-from-home, online schooling, online activities and all forms of entertainment are available with a click. However, as the age-matured saying goes - Excess anything is bad, and so is technology. 

• The dependence on technology & digital gadgets has surpassed dangerous levels, leading to innumerable silent side-effects. 

• Due to restrictions on going out of the house, full-blown entertainment in the form of youtube videos, movies, seasons on OTT platforms has stopped even the smallest of physical movement possible at home. 

• Being cut off/limited from face-to-face interaction and excess screen time (that cannot substitute live interactions) affecting mental health may turn into depression if not identified at the right time. 

• No regular interaction with peers, friends or family is one of the primary causes of increased social withdrawal in children, especially adolescents.

The kids have become addicted to screens and have formed an invisible bubble around them, where they do not like to move out of that 2D world and socialize in the real 4D world. These things are likely to promote depression, as they are exposed to all types of content available on the internet, and so much of it is wrongly influential, twisted and unethical. As it is impossible to monitor what the children/adolescents are viewing, consuming inappropriate content for a long time can deleteriously impact their mental health.

2) Stress & Anxiety

The cumulative stress due to the new normal is a story of every household. Everyone is going through a dubious phase, and so are the children. The experts say, "In the Indian culture, the kids are not usually used to living in isolation, even in nuclear families, they interact with neighbours, families, friends and others regularly. The current pandemic situation has led to a rise in anxiety and depression due to the school/college closure and restrictions on even playing in playgrounds with other children." 

• The performance stress in online classes, a race to participate in various online courses and activities, and monotonous routine are some factors that are majorly contributing towards anxiousness. Incorporate Brain breaks from our Brain Break Ideas blog to reduce stress.

• The vibes from stress/anxiety/frustration of parents pass on to the kids in some form or the other. Managing the safety of family, household chores with increased hours of WFH setup or simply not losing a job is not as easy as a walk in the park. 

• Constant fear and discussions about Covid-19 and relative doubts about the future is also a prominent reason for the anxiousness of parents and resulting stress on the adolescents.

• Adolescents can comprehend every situation in-depth. Social isolation, staying confined to homes, not being able to live the regular adolescent life is causing a detrimental effect on their mental well-being. 

• A shocking number of domestic abuse cases surfaced during the lockdown period. Exposure to such unsafe conditions at home can also lead to poor mental health and depression.

3) Lifestyle Habits

The routine that we usually complained about is now something we desperately want to experience again. All parents wish to get back to a fixed time for household chores, for children going to school, to reach the office and end the day. 

With all that gone for a toss since the 1st lockdown, the new never-ending routine has started to impact mental and physical well-being.

• The lockdown, WFH, online schooling since March 2020 has become a nightmare for most parents. The schedule has gone haywire and maintaining the balance of work, personal life, and kids demand efforts that drain the energy in gallons.

• The same applies to the kids - disrupted sleep and eating schedule, nil physical activity, bed slumber and watching screens is how this deplorable lifestyle has become another new normal affecting the metabolism rate of children.

• These changes against the body's biological clock have side effects, such as poorer gut health, loss of appetite, increased appetite, eating for wrong reasons such as boredom, anxiety, panic, depression and loneliness.

• While the number of adults who started a healthy lifestyle by adopting workout routines increased in the last year, online schooling made the life of children sedentary more than ever.

• Inculcating the habit of playing in an open area, whenever possible, choosing playing over screens, finding ways to be moderately active even if inside the house is essential.

4) Fast Food Consumption

The lockdown came as a stage for the development of culinary skills hidden inside everyone. Cooking various restaurant-style dishes at home became the hottest trend, which definitely helped keep everyone engaged and entertained. But overdo of the same led to habitual consumption of fast food at home. 

• As per the statistics, the home delivery service from restaurants has tripled in the last year itself, indicating the high rise in fast food and junk food, aerated sugar drinks over regular food. 

• Stuck inside the home, food has become a mode of entertainment to de-stress and indulge in a feisty lifestyle, with increased in-house parties, get-togethers and celebrations. 

• The trend of gourmet and restaurant-style food is steadily increasing the psychological dependence on fast food, which in turn is leading to a drastic increase in obesity since childhood. 

• Relying on food that is of low nutritional value, contains high saturated fats along with a sedentary life have long term detrimental effect on health and lead to problems like high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension at a very young age. 

• Junk food is also associated with lesser energy, a weaker immune system and overall lethargy and lowers metabolism, which can induce feelings of loneliness and depression in the current circumstances.

• On the other side, depression can cause over-eating and binge on processed food to avoid boredom.

It turns into a vicious cycle of low-mood, leading to binge eating on high carb and processed food - that, in turn, leads to weight gain and poor health. It can eventually affect social well-being and self-esteem in children due to peer comparisons, increasing the chances of social withdrawal and depression.

The right time to bring the change is NOW!

Being a millennial parent is not just about modern parenting and how different-from-previous-generation you treat your children. It is also being aware, knowledgeable, and informed about things related to your children. Understanding issues like depression, obesity and identifying their markers is a requisite. Obesity and depression are interlinked and can be the cause as well as the outcome of one another.

Here are some suggested methods to manage the issues in the current situations.

1. Identify and Consult - It is imperative to know the hidden signs and triggers of depression, loneliness, anxiety and obesity in children. Any behavioural changes and awkwardness in children should not be ignored and must be carefully monitored to identify the reason behind it. 

The children go through various emotional patches during the transitions of puberty, adolescence, teenage. However, these changes are short term and occasional. If you find any of the reactions and behaviour changes that are persisting, consult your healthcare advisor to decide a further course of action. The right action at the right time can prevent any of these issues from becoming life-long comorbidity that can give rise to other threatening diseases.

2. Adopt a lifestyle for the family as a whole - A systematic lifestyle with an energetic environment is essential for the mental well-being of all the family members. Healthy food habits, lifestyle changes, workout routine at home, family time, lesser screen time and having daily affirmations, are some of the small changes that can instantly bring about a difference to the psychological state of the whole family. 

As parents imprint on children, staying happy, calm and positive will impact the overall aura around children. Eating wholesome nutritious food, keeping fast food for celebrations can help in balancing the calories and nutrition intake. 

Involve them in house chores by partnering and sharing them with enthusiasm and fun, such as cleaning, mopping, washing utensils, drying laundry. The activities will keep them away from unnecessary screen time and depressing thoughts (if any) at bay while burning the daily calories without specific efforts.

1. Communicate - The lockdown has made us all available 24*7 for work and parallelly unavailable to family and the pressure of the daily grind has reduced the conversations to zilch. The family time started enthusiastically in the 1st lockdown is no more interesting. It is, therefore, more important to communicate and even more important to LISTEN to your kids. 

Explain to them the need to bring healthy changes to their lifestyle. Let them open up and bring out their inner thoughts (especially adolescents) to help them prevent going into depression. 

2. Indulge together in activities - Only talking might get boring for obvious reasons, so try to get your hands on zillion ideas of indoor activities and games to break the ice. Include physical and relaxing activities to create a mix for best results. Movie time (BLOG LINK), Indoor activities (BLOG LINK), Sit dow games, online family games on weekends etc. 

For older children, take up joint online activity classes such as gardening, yoga, cooking, music or any other from the ocean of options available on the internet (it is a nice way to teach them about using the technology with the right intent). The right amount of physical activities will keep their health in auto-check mode.

Once upon a time, we all cribbed about not having time to spend with our children. Watch them grow, observe their antics, it will make them feel less vulnerable and secure. When you pay attention, they will reciprocate with attention to you and listen to you. That is how you will motivate them for all the better things and save them from going down the unwarranted path of obesity and depression.

Whatever the situations might be, we cannot deter from our responsibility towards our children. Yes, there are times when you feel helpless, but remember our children depend on us for all predicaments, we are their north pole.

To understand more about depression and obesity in children, stay tuned for the upcoming blogs only on PinkNBlu.

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