COVID-19: UAE doctors see spike in back pain, obesity among e-learners


UAE – With several school and university students still in online learning mode, UAE doctors are calling on the youth — and their parents — to watch for health issues that may arise from long hours of daily virtual classes.

More students have been suffering from poor posture, poor eyesight, back pain, obesity, and other lifestyle-related illnesses, following the shift to e-learning last year, doctors have said.

“Children are not bound to follow good ergonomics at home. Attending online classes on beds and sofas are the most common reasons behind a rise in musculoskeletal pains,” said Dr Samith Alva, specialist in paediatrics at Aster Clinic, JLT.

Doctors in the country have urged parents to provide children with a well-ventilated learning area and comfortable chairs at their homes. Screen time breaks are also advised.

Dr Gihan Zina, specialist in paediatrics at Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, Abu Dhabi, said: “I’ve been hearing from families about young children who are having trouble sleeping, whose eating habits have changed, who are crying or throwing tantrums for no good reason, or are just generally upset and more irritable than usual. Some are moodier, some complaining of back and body pain, some have problems with eyesight as well, which can get tough for parents who are working from home.”

Dr Alva said: “Children are now increasingly suffering from back aches, neck and shoulder strain caused by bad posture. Eye strains are also common as kids are exposed to bright light, high screen contrasts, glare and flickering images, which takes a toll on your eyes.”

He said children seldom get headaches, but too much screen time can bring one on. “Studies have shown that overuse of digital devices increases stress levels and constant stress over a prolonged period affect sleep, digestion and emotions,” he explained.

Physical fatigue and poor sleep patterns, caused by being still for long hours, puts a stress on muscles and joints. “The result — getting tired without even moving much,” he added. While devices make great babysitters because they keep kids still for so long, the lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor to childhood obesity and its accompanying risks.

Dr Zina suggests as families are building routines, it would be good to build in some exercise. “A little extra screen time for your kid so that you can get some work done may just be inevitable. Playtime may not be particularly inspiring, but it is totally fine to turn chores into games,” she added.

Dr Zina also said that before offering some tips on how to manage the day, parents should validate both their and their children’s experiences. “Validation acknowledges how a person is feeling without agreeing or disagreeing. It shows children and adults that they are heard and helps them manage their emotions,” she added.

“It may not seem like a certainty right now, but schools will reopen at some point, perhaps sooner in some communities than in others. Sticking with a routine similar to the one practised for typical school days will help make any return to school smoother, as well as give shape to each day,” she explained.

“Try to keep your children’s morning and bedtime routines the same as if they were preparing for school. Keeping mealtimes the same also can help,” added Dr Zina.

What is the recommended time to use devices?

> Babies younger than 18 months — No screen time at all. The exception to this rule is video chatting with grandparents or other family and friends

> Toddlers (18 months to two years) — Must co-watch high-quality educational content with them to help them understand what they are seeing, and limit total exposure to less than an hour.

> By ages two and five, kids should watch no more than one hour a day. Try to plan TV-time in advance

> 6 to 10 years — Up to 1 to 1.5 hours per day

> 11 to 13 years — Up to 2 hours per day

(Age as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organisation)

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