A new study says one of the negative side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on kid’s health and wellness is a troubling increase in obesity for U.S. children and teens during the coronavirus crisis.
Dr. Alyson Goodman, one of the authors of the study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sept. 17, 2021, told the Associated Press that the results showed a “profound increase in weight gain for kids” and are “substantial and alarming”.
The study, “Longitudinal Trends in Body Mass Index Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Persons Aged 2-19 Years – United States, 2018-2020”, looked at 432,302 people between the ages of 2 and 19 and found that their rate of body mass index (BMI) almost doubled during the pandemic compared to a pre-pandemic period.
Joining Dr. Goodman on the report were her colleagues from the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Diseases Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC including lead author Samantha J. Lange, MPH; Lyudmyla Kompaniyets, PhD; David S. Freedman, PhD; and Heidi M. Blanck, PhD.
Joining the CDC crew were Emily M. Kraus, PhD, Public Health Informatics Institute; and Renee Porter, DNP, McKing Consulting Corporation.
Pandemic Makes Ongoing Obesity Problem Worse
Obesity among young people in the U.S. has already been a concern before COVID-19 but the pandemic seems to have accelerated weight gain issues across all groups with the CDC report finding:
- An estimate of 22 percent of all children and teens were obese, up from 19 percent a year earlier.
- Children who were a healthy weight before the pandemic were gaining an average 3.4 pounds per year, but that figure rose to 5.4 pounds during the pandemic.
- Children who were moderately obese before the pandemic were gaining an average of 6.5 pounds per year, but that figure almost doubled to 12 pounds during the pandemic.
- Children who were severely obese before the pandemic were gaining an average of 8.8 pounds per year, but that figure jumped to 14.6 pounds.
The report found that younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases.
“I think everybody’s shifting upward,” Dr. Sandra Hassink, medical director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight told NPR.
Dr. Hassink thought that school closures, disruptions to sleep and physical activity schedules, stress, and social isolation during the pandemic had created “the perfect storm for having issues with weight gain.”
Many Factors Contribute to Unhealthy Weight Gain
The CDC author of the obesity study cited many factors that contributed to the unhealthy weight gain of children:
- School closures
- Disrupted routines
- Increased stress
- Less opportunity for physical activity
- Less opportunity for proper nutrition
“Obesity is a serious health concern in the United States, affecting more than one in six children and putting their long-term health and quality of life at risk,” the study authors wrote.
The study continued: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents spent more time than usual away from structured school settings, and families who were already disproportionately affected by obesity risk factors might have had additional disruptions in income, food, and other social determinants of health.”
The study said the COVID-19 crisis led to not only increased stress but also to irregular mealtimes, less access to nutritious foods, increased screen time, and fewer opportunities for physical activity such as recreational sports.
To combat the obesity epidemic, the report recommends:
- Screening for BMI, food security, and other social determinants of health by health care providers
- Increased access to evidence-based pediatric weight management programs and food assistance resources
- State, community, and school efforts to facilitate healthy eating, physical activity, and chronic disease prevention
Another study published in August by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Kaiser Permanente Southern California, was based on a smaller sample size, but came to the same conclusion as the CDC report.
One of the goals of Churchich Recreation and Design is to keep the kids of North Carolina and South Carolina healthy by providing them with memorable, one-of-a-kind experiences for physical activity and play.
Contact us today to find out how we can help your school or organization promote a healthy lifestyle in your community.