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MALTATODAY 3 October 2021

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 3 OCTOBER 2021 NEWS Children ate more fruit but exercised less during COVID lockdown JAMES DEBONO TWO studies in the Malta Medical Journal have shed a light on the impact of lock- downs on health, with one study showing that the Mal- tese in general exercised more but at a lower intensity than before; and another showing that despite an increase in fruit and vegetable intake, children gained weight. The COVID-19 lockdown contributed to an increased weight gain in Maltese chil- dren mainly due to a more sed- entary lifestyle. But it also led to an increase in fruit and veg- etable intake and a decrease in the consumption of sweetened beverages. The online questionnaire among 521 parents showed the preferred beverage of Maltese children during the pandemic was water (94%) with only 14% reporting a preference for sug- ar-sweetened beverages in ad- dition to water. The authors called it a pos- itive improvement from the data published in the Food and Nutrition Policy and Action Plan for Malta in 2015, that reported an average of 44% of youths admitting to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on a daily basis. One reason for this "was the enforced relocation of food and beverage consumption to home rather than from restaurants or take-aways". Maltese children also in- creased their intake of fruit and vegetables, although still not up to recommended amounts. On average, the intake was around 84% of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This could be the result of an increased availability of fruit and vegetables at home during the lockdown. But more than a quarter of parents noted that their chil- dren were eating more food during lockdown, perhaps be- cause of the immediate avail- ability of food throughout the day or as a result of boredom. Although there are no previ- ous studies on sleep patterns of Maltese children to compare with, the study suggests that lockdown had a positive effect on children's sleep, and most children achieved the appro- priate hours of recommended sleep. Still, the authors of the study expressed concern on the high proportion (57%) of Maltese children who had tablets, lap- tops, video games, mobile phones or a TV in their bed- room. Moreover the study confirms that despite healthier nutri- tional habits, most children gained in weight. 40% of par- ents claimed their children's weight was between 1-2kg low- er at the start of the pandem- ic, 8% claimed their children's weight was 3-5kg lower, where- as 46% claimed it remained the same. The increase in weight is at- tributed is attributed to an in- crease in sedentary behaviour, a decrease in moderate to vig- orous exercise (MVPA) and in- creased food intake. Over 95% of children spent an additional two hours or more in sedentary activities, while fewer children achieved the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise during the lockdown. While before the pandem- ic, 21% reported achieving the recommended one hour of dai- ly exercise, this decreased to 17% during lockdown. Moreover, prior to the pan- demic, 54% of children were able to achieve the daily rec- ommended of exercise at least 5 days a week or more. But this decreased to 32% during the pandemic. 95% of children spent at least two hours or more doing vari- ous activities sitting down. 70% of parents noted that their children were more sed- entary during the pandemic when compared to their 'nor- mal', pre-pandemic lifestyle. The study, authored by pae- diatricians Amanda Fenech and Simon Attard Montalto, advocated for a better bal- ance of home-schooling hours, physical activity and nutrition as part of a strategy against childhood obesity, especially if countries have to revert to home-schooling in the future. The authors of the study expressed concern on the high proportion (57%) of Maltese children who had tablets, laptops, video games, mobile phones or a TV in their bedroom

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