The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly stormy for children as they have settled down for the past year and a half, experiencing disrupted schooling, increasing social isolation, and heightened anxiety at a time when upheaval has ravaged millions of households.
It turns out the crisis has also been linked to significant obesity gains in children and adolescents, according to a study recently published in the medical journal JAMA.
The researchers found a 9 percent increase in obesity in children ages 5 to 11, with an average weight gain of five pounds during the pandemic. Among the teenagers, 16- and 17-year-olds gained an average of two extra pounds, they found.
The study, which analyzed electronic health records from nearly 200,000 young people on the Kaiser Permanente health network in Southern California, confirms what many Americans have seen firsthand: the pandemic expanded the waistline.
Experts said the study was one of the first to quantify the impact of disruptions in normal activities and resources on young people. “We know children have put on weight during the pandemic, but the numbers are shocking and worse than I expected,” said Dr. Sarah Barlow, a child obesity specialist at Children’s Health in Dallas who was not part of the study.
Some weight gain may be related to school closings that have restricted access to physical activity and nutritious meal programs. Distance learning, experts say, often means more sitting time – and more access to the refrigerator.
Dr. Rachana Shah, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted the mental health impact of the pandemic and how stress can lead to poorer eating habits. Dr. Shah, who specializes in metabolic and obesity diseases, said, “During the Covid pandemic, many people were more tense and could offer their children less healthy options.” Coping Mechanism “can be.
Dr. Deborah Young, director of the behavioral research division at Kaiser Permanente and author of the study, said she expected the rise in obesity to decline as children return to school and their daily lives, but she and others raised concerns that not everyone the excess pounds.
“Obesity in adolescence and young adulthood leads to obesity in adulthood and all the associated illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure,” she said.
Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focused on childhood obesity, said the pandemic had exacerbated systemic problems such as lack of access to healthy food in poorer communities and the ubiquity of junk food and sugary drinks.
“Covid really made it clear how negligent our food system really is,” she said. “We need long-term political corrections. Otherwise we just put a plaster on a gaping wound. “