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27 May 2020

The undiscussed dangers of the coronavirus pandemic.

by Jackson Peos 0

By Jackson Peos PhD (c) The coronavirus disease is the fastest-growing global pandemic of our time, with worldwide cases exceeding 200,000 and with some experts predicting that the actual value of infections may approximate 1,000,000 due to inadequate testing and reporting in some countries. There’s no debating this disease is sinister, with each new case…

By Jackson Peos PhD (c)

The coronavirus disease is the fastest-growing global pandemic of our time, with worldwide cases exceeding 200,000 and with some experts predicting that the actual value of infections may approximate 1,000,000 due to inadequate testing and reporting in some countries. There’s no debating this disease is sinister, with each new case infecting 2-3 more, causing severe respiratory disease in approximately 20% of patients, killing more than 3% of confirmed cases. This information – while gripping – is likely nothing new to you, with coronavirus news dominating our mainstream news outlets daily for the past four months. We are well informed of the catastrophic potential of this virus, yet there are some substantial dangers of this virus that I have not seen discussed once on our television sets. 

Along with the birth of the pandemic, came the closures of fitness outlets, and restrictions placed on our ability to interact outdoors with friends, family, and teammates. While the priority must be to put in place measures to attenuate the spread and immediate impact of this virus, some of these measures will likely exacerbate a pandemic of another kind, the obesity pandemic. 

To bolster this argument, I am going to lean on literature examining the relationship between weight gain and school holiday periods. After all, for children at least, these lockdowns are just an extended school break. Research has shown that children experience substantial weight gain during the school summer holidays. In one study, student weight and the prevalence of obesity increased across 3 years of schooling, with increases in obesity prevalence only increasing during the holiday periods. Of more concern, the data suggests this weight gain is maintained during the school year, meaning weight gain is accrued year to year. 

The question arises, what components of the school holiday period are contributing to this weight gain? I think we can conclusively say that greater time spent at home substantially alters the food environment and the capacity for physical activity. To translate this data into context of the current coronavirus lockdown measures, I expect that these are both significant challenges many of us are battling with. Not only are we somewhat prevented from engaging in our usual training activities, but it’s likely that our shelves are now laden with calorie dense, ultra-processed comfort foods, as many households stock up on shelf-stable food to minimise trips outside the home. Additionally, perhaps your motivation for upholding your diet has faded along with your training motivation. Moreover, perhaps greater free time spent within the home has been accompanied by boredom eating. Whatever the reason, it is highly likely that for many that the coronavirus pandemic will result in a high energy diet, and weight gain. The weight gain is likely to be even more substantial when coupled with a notable decrease in daily physical activity, evident by data demonstrating a soaring rise in video game usage during the lockdown conditions. Greater screen time is particularly dangerous, as previous research has highlighted the association between screen time hours and obesity, and the link between screen time and snacking.

While I acknowledge it is easy to criticise from the outside, and that our politicians are compelled to make very difficult decisions during this time (which no doubt will not satisfy every one of us), I do think that there has been an inadequate government response to support healthy eating and active living since the gym closures and lockdown measures. In the same way that schools and universities have been sending home remote lesson plans for math or accounting, I believe there should be remote lesson plans sent home for physical activity (e.g., home workout programs) and healthy eating (healthy easy recipes). I am thankful that some advanced fitness providers, such as JPS, have been going to great lengths to facilitate online training, healthy eating, and education within the home, however I fear for most – the ‘Gen Pop’ – that they will slip down a path towards sedentary behaviour, and overconsumption of calories, perhaps without even realising it.

References

von Hippel PT, Workman J. From kindergarten through second grade, U.S. children’s obesity prevalence grows only during summer vacations. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016;24:2296-2300

von Hippel PT, Workman J. From kindergarten through second grade, U.S. children’s obesity prevalence grows only during summer vacations. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016;24:2296-2300

von Hippel PT, Workman J. From kindergarten through second grade, U.S. children’s obesity prevalence grows only during summer vacations. Obesity (Silver Spring)  2016;24:2296-2300

Franckle R, Adler R, Davison K. Accelerated weight gain among children during sum- mer versus school year and related racial/ethnic disparities: a systematic review. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:E101. doi:10.5888/pcd11.130355 

Wilde T. Online gaming surge: steam breaks concurrent user record amid socail dis- tancing mandates. GeekWire website. https://www.geekwire.com/2020/online-gaming- surge-steam-breaks-concurrent-user-record-amid-social-distancing-mandates/2020.

About the author

Jackson is a PhD researcher in Clinical & Sports Nutrition, an accredited Sports Nutritionist, and competitive bodybuilder and boxer. He currently works at the School of Human Sciences, where he has completed a BSc in Sports Science and in Exercise & Health, and an Honours in Exercise Physiology. Instagram @jacksonpeos

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