Concern over lockdown weight gain by children

MANY young Islanders gained weight during lockdown, leading to feelings of insecurity, and parents are being urged to get outside and exercise with their children during the winter months to stop the problem worsening.

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Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan said that with possible tighter restrictions on the way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, she would like to see families get out as much as possible during the hours of sunlight.

She added that she had become concerned after learning that there were children in the Island who rarely, if ever, visited the beach and was alarmed by recent feedback that pupils were feeling ‘insecure’ about returning to school, having gained weight during lockdown.

Weight loss consultant Joanne Reid-Rodrigues said she had noticed many Islanders have gained weight in recent months and increased intake of alcohol and food were the main causes, often prompted by increased stress.

Mrs McMillan said that if adults took steps to control their weight it would set a good example for their children.

‘We are concerned about the health of adults, as well as children. If parents are healthy and active, then it encourages their children to be also,’ she said.

‘What we have seen is an increase in children being overweight. In a survey we did with the government we found that there are children saying they were insecure about going back to school because they had gained weight.’

She added: ‘During the lockdown we did see more families going out together outdoors, which was great. We sold out of bicycles in the Island. But we also saw families who did not go out and when the lockdown ended everyone went back to their old behaviour.

‘Coming into the winter months, what we would like to see is people getting outside between 12pm and 2pm during the day, so they get that sunlight and melatonin, which is so good for mental health and wellbeing.’

Mrs McMillan she was concerned after being told that during a recent summer youth initiative the Bosdet Foundation charity learned that a large number of Jersey children did not even visit the beach.

‘They told me that there were children who went in the sea and said that the water tastes wrong. They didn’t know it was saltwater because they never go to the beach,’ she said.

‘Quite often it’s just a question of finances. If a family lives at First Tower it might cost too much money to take their children to a beach. And they haven’t been able to go to St Aubin this summer because it has been covered in sea lettuce.

‘Also you might have both parents working, day and night, and they simply don’t have time to take the kids to the beach.’

Ms Reid-Rodrigues said that she had seen that ‘substantial numbers of people’ had put on weight during the lockdown, and psychological issues, such as stress, were a cause.

‘The key causes of weight gain are overeating and drinking alcohol. However, behind that most obvious cause is the emotional state of the individual. And behind the emotional state is the psychological state,’ she said.

‘When people are worried and engaging in stress-producing thinking, negative emotion is triggered. Negative emotion is always painful, and food or alcohol provides a distraction. However, we rarely choose healthy food to comfort ourselves.’

She advised that, going into the winter months, people take steps to strengthen their mindset to prevent over-eating or over-drinking.

‘Engage your mind in something constructive. Read uplifting books or listen to inspirational podcasts. Starting a creative project or learning a new skill can help redirect our attention away from a problem and stop stress at its source,’ she said.

She advised adopting a simple, healthy diet, such as a daily bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit or vegetable soup, walking regularly and attending any exercise or weight management classes that are available.

FACTBOX:

The impact of weight gain on children

Quotes from Children’s Commissioner and Government of Jersey’s joint survey

- I feel lazy and unmotivated, I feel bored and tired. I have no thrive to do anything even if it’s something I used to love to do. I miss being productive and walking to town or college with my friends. I also feel self conscious about my weight, since I can tell that I’ve put on weight and that makes me feel very insecure about going back to school

- I’m kinda fine I get annoyed with my dad more often because he gets stressed with his work which puts stress on me. Also, I think I have been putting lots of weight on and I am very conscious but don’t know who to speak to as I’m scared.

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