The number of small children considered overweight increased considerably in 2020, according to figures from the Flemish agency for child development (AO).
The sudden leap in the numbers, which is being ascribed to the various effects of the corona pandemic, is the continuation of a decade of growth.
Ten years ago, 6.7% of two-year-olds were considered overweight. In pre-corona year 2019 that reached 9.6%, before reaching 11.4% in corona year 2020.
The possible reasons are plain to see. Children were kept out of nursery or pre-school by Covid regulations, and stayed at home with working parents, who may have been more indulgent with snacks for a moment of peace than a pre-school teacher would be.
Opportunities for play, especially outdoor play, were also curtailed. The effects of cookies and confinement were not restricted to toddlers.
Even more concerning, according to the family agency Kind & Gezin, which provided the figures based on consultations, 1.8% of those toddlers were so overweight as to be considered obese, up from 1.3% the year before.
This increase seems fairly evenly spread across Flanders.
“We see that the figures have increased by at least one percentage point in all provinces, but the increase is strongest in Antwerp and Limburg,” said Diederik Vancoppenolle, scientific advisor at the development agency.
“We know that there is more overweight in children with a mother of non-Belgian origin and in children from underprivileged families. But in 2020, the share in all subgroups increased at about the same rate.”
It may be that the Kind & Gezin figures are swayed by the fact that they saw fewer children in total in 2020, and those they did see were the most serious cases. But records show that children born in 2018 – the two-year-olds in question – were not noticeably heavier either at birth or at one year.
So the development agency attributes the difference to corona.
“We saw striking differences between birth months,” Vancoppenolle told De Morgen. “The children who were two years old in the first months of 2020 and who came for a consultation with Kind & Gezin turned out to be at the same level as the children the year before. In the children who turned two in June, we see a remarkable increase. About 13 percent are overweight. As of June, the share will remain above 11 percent.”
Professor Inge Gies, head of the obesity clinic at UZ Brussel, sounded an alarm.
“We know that the first thousand days of a baby’s life, from conception to age two, are important for the prevention of overweight and obesity later in life,” she told the paper.
“So let’s not wait for obese adults to appear before taking action.”