Summary: The prevalence of obesity in children and young adults has risen in the US and even globally. It will have long-term consequences like an increase in diabetes, hypertension, and other related disorders. It has been an ongoing trend for the last few decades. Even worse, a new study by CDC indicates that covid-19 doubled the rate of weight gain in children. Weight gain has been highest among children aged 5 to 11 years. Moreover, these changes happened in a very short time. If steps are not taken to reduce obesity in children, it will have long-term consequences that would be felt even decades after the pandemic is over.
Keywords: obesity in children, weight gain, covid-19 pandemic
Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular ailments, arthritis, respiratory disorders are a huge burden for healthcare in the US. Early studies show that grounds for these health issues are laid down in wrong lifestyle choices in childhood. At present, close to 20% of children in the US are living with obesity1.
But that is not all. Data clearly shows that even before the covid-19 epidemic, the rate of obesity was continually rising among children aged 2 to 19 years2. Obesity has various impacts on the physical and mental health of children. Though diseases like diabetes or heart disorder occur much later in life, psychological issues related to obesity start much earlier3.
In 2020, the covid-19 pandemic caused a considerable change in the lifestyle of young and old. It resulted in many restrictions. It meant that children did not go out as often and were physically less active. It also meant consuming more calories. Increased use of gadgets, computer gaming also rose considerably.
One of the largest studies has been published by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), indicating a sharp rise in obesity amount children. As per the report, the rate of weight gain doubled in less than nine-months4.
Impact of covid-19 pandemics on obesity in children
The study used the medical record data of 432,302 children aged 2 to 19 years to see how pandemic affected their body weight or BMI. BMI is a more accurate way to understand obesity as it shows weight relative to height.
The study found that almost all children gained weight, except a small number who were underweight. Moreover, the study found that gain in body weight was more remarkable in younger children. Thus, preschool and school-aged children were affected more than adolescents.
It is evident why these young adults were more affected than adolescents. It appears to be the result of closed childcare centers and schools. As a result, most children did not engage in much physical activity at home.
And they spent more time in front of screens.
Some data is truly alarming, like 5.3 times increase in proportions of weight gain. Thus, obesity in 2-19 years rose from 19.3% in August 2019 to 22.4% in August 2020. It is worth noticing that such a severe increase occurred in just about 6-months of the pandemic. The study found that the rate of weight gain was 6.1 and 7.6 pounds, compared to 2.7 pounds in those with a healthy weight. This study also found the greatest increase in body weight among children aged 6-11, with 2.5 times greater change than the pre-pandemic rate4.
These findings should raise the alarm for all the caretakers. Since such an increase in weight gain may have severe long-term health consequences. It may cause a considerable increase in type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and depression in this population group. Needless to say, that the impact of this pandemic will be felt even after decades.
Simple measures may help reverse these health issues
Thus, most professional organizations recommend the need for raising awareness. There are many ways in which this weight gain can be countered. It is vital to encourage children to do more physical exercise, spendmore time in the sun, and start moving.
It may also mean making dietary changes, reducing total calorie intake, less frequent snacking, or switching to healthy snacks. It is also vital to reduce portion sizes. Limiting the use of processed foods is an absolute must.
Finally, limiting screen time may also help. So many children these days are tied to gadgets, screens. Thus, a need to limit the time children are viewing TV, playing on gaming consoles.
1. Childhood Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC. Published April 5, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html
2. Skinner AC, Ravanbakht SN, Skelton JA, Perrin EM, Armstrong SC. Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999–2016. Pediatrics. 2018;141(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-3459
3. G V, Mr L, M M, et al. [Health consequences of obesity in children and adolescents]. Minerva Pediatr. 2014;66(5):381-414.
4. Lange SJ. Longitudinal Trends in Body Mass Index Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Persons Aged 2–19 Years — the United States, 2018–2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7037a3