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Is COVID-19 adding pounds to our kids?
The possibility of COVID-19 affecting the nation’s children in ways that may be lifelong has become a reality, according to some health care professionals.
That effect is childhood obesity.
Over the past year and a half, during a time of increased social isolation and heightened anxiety due to the coronavirus, it is believed many adolescents found comfort in food.
According to a recent study published in the journal of American medicine, the crisis has been linked to substantial weight gain among children and adolescents.
The study found a nine-percent increase in obesity among children ages five to 11, with an average weight gain of five pounds during the pandemic. Among adolescents, the average weight gain was some seven pounds.
A Dallas-based childhood obesity doctor, Sarah Barlow, said the disruptions to daily activities had a direct effect on weight gain among the youth.
“We know that kids have been gaining weight during the pandemic,” Dr. Barlow said. “But the numbers are shocking and worse than I expected.”
Researchers believe some of the weight gain can be tied to limited access to physical activity due to school closures, sport leagues taking a halt and the refrigerator being a ‘go-to’ during downtime.
Health care professionals agree that seemingly overnight, the emotional whirlwind of the pandemic brought with it psychosocial and mental health issues that have begun affecting children and adults.
As children’s educational setting turned to remote learning, the effects on mental health and new stressors led to poorer eating habits.
Although local schools offered meal programs and the government provided supplemental funding for food for families, many became financially stressed and were unable to provide nutritious meals for their families.
Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the pandemic had worsened systemic problems like the lack of access to healthy foods in poorer communities and the ubiquity of junk food and sugary drinks.
Researchers believe food became a coping mechanism for those children dealing with anxiety, depression and the feeling of helplessness during the global pandemic.
Doctors across the country have expressed fear over the future health of those children who gained weight during the pandemic. Excess weight gain among children, they say, translates into excess weight in adults. People who are overweight suffer from various medical conditions which, when left untreated, can be deadly, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Childhood obesity has been increasing for decades; however, the acceleration over the past year has been alarming, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control, released last month.
The study showed an estimated 22 percent of American children and teens were obese last August, an increase from 19 percent the previous year. The study was commensurate with the JAMA study showing a four- to five-pound weight gain during the pandemic.
Prior to the coronavirus, Americans’ average weight gain was two and a half pounds per year.
For kids who were moderately obese, the expected weight gain rose from 6.5 pounds a year to 12 pounds after the start of the pandemic. Severely overweight children’s expected weight gain rose from 8.8 pounds to 14.6 pounds.
Texas has joined the list of states that have at least 35 percent of residents who are obese. Other states added to the list during the pandemic included Delaware, Iowa and Ohio.
In 2019, the list of 12 American states with a rising percentage of obese residents included Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
If the nation is to defeat the pandemic and begin its road to recovery from the coronavirus, health care professionals believe attention will have to be given to the long-term effects of the disease and the ways in which COVID-19 has changed the way we manage our households and raise our children.