Impact of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Childhood Obesity and Liver Disease A Growing Concern

Impact of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Childhood Obesity and Liver Disease: A Growing Concern

COVID-19 lockdowns linked to higher BMI and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children reveals study at ESPGHAN 2024. Learn about the urgent public health implications.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented changes to daily life, including lockdowns and social distancing measures.

These changes have had a profound impact on the health of children and adolescents, with a significant increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This was the key finding presented by You Jin Choi and colleagues at the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Annual Meeting 2024.

Rising BMI and NAFLD Among Young People

You Jin Choi, from Inje University Ilsan Paik Hospital, Goyang, South Korea, led a comprehensive study on the effects of the pandemic on BMI and NAFLD in children and adolescents.

The research involved 3,410 participants aged 4-18 who visited the Bundang CHA pediatric obesity clinic before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers used bioelectrical impedance analysis to measure BMI and appendicular skeletal muscle mass.

The findings were alarming: the average BMI of participants increased from 22.61 to 23.85 during the pandemic (P<0.001).

The proportion of children and adolescents classified as overweight or obese (BMI ≥23) rose dramatically from 28.9% (January 2017–November 2019) to 52.9% (August 2020–May 2022).

Increased Prevalence and Severity of NAFLD

The team used ultrasonography to examine intrahepatic fat content to assess the impact on liver health.

The prevalence of NAFLD in young people jumped from 12.4% to 19.5% during the pandemic (P<0.001).

Moreover, the severity of the disease was significantly higher for those diagnosed during the pandemic than those diagnosed before (P>0.001).

Causes and Implications

The study suggests that reduced physical activity and disrupted health management due to social distancing significantly contribute to increased BMI and NAFLD.

The researchers emphasized the urgent need for targeted public health interventions to address these issues and mitigate the potential long-term health effects on children and adolescents.

Reduced physical activity and limited access to regular health check-ups have played a critical role in the observed weight gain and increased prevalence of obesity-related diseases among young people.

These lifestyle changes highlight the broader impact of the pandemic on public health, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children.


The results of this study underscore the importance of implementing public health strategies to combat the adverse effects of pandemic-related lifestyle changes.

Encouraging physical activity, ensuring access to healthcare, and promoting healthy eating habits are essential in protecting children and adolescents’ health in a post-pandemic world.

This research serves as a crucial reminder of the hidden consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of proactive measures to safeguard the health of future generations.

The ESPGHAN 2024 Annual Meeting findings highlight the need for continued vigilance and intervention to address the pandemic’s lasting impact on youth health.

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