Pandemic is associated with an increase in childhood obesity, research shows

The corona pandemic has been particularly tumultuous for children as they sank down over the past year and a half and experienced disrupted schooling, increased social isolation and increased anxiety at a time when millions of households have been hit by upheavals.

The crisis, it turns out, has also been linked to a significant increase in obesity among children and adolescents, according to a recent study published in the medical journal JAMA.

The researchers found a 9 percent increase in obesity among children ages 5 to 11, with an average weight gain of 5 pounds during the pandemic. Among young people, 16- and 17-year-olds gained an average of 2 extra pounds, they found.

The study, which analyzed electronic health records for nearly 200,000 young people in the Kaiser Permanente Health Network in Southern California, confirms what many Americans have experienced on their own: the pandemic’s expanded waistline.

Experts said the study was among the first to quantify the effects on adolescents of the disorders in normal activities and resources. “We know that children have gained weight during the pandemic, but the numbers are shocking and worse than I expected,” said Dr. Sarah Barlow, a pediatric obesity specialist at Children’s Health in Dallas, who was not involved in the study.

Some weight gain may be linked to school closures, which restricted access to physical activity and nutritious meal programs. Distance learning, experts say, has often meant more sedentary time – and more access to the refrigerator.

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Dr. Rachana Shah, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted the effects of the pandemic on mental health and how stress can lead to poorer eating habits. Dr. Shah, who specializes in metabolic and obesity-related diseases, said: “Under Covid, many people have been even more widespread and less able to provide their children with healthy opportunities.” She added that food can become “a coping mechanism” for those with anxiety or depression.

Dr. Deborah Young, director of the Kaiser Permanente Department of Behavioral Research and author of the study, said she expected obesity to decline as children returned to school and their routines, but she and others expressed concern that not everyone would drop out. excess pounds.

“Obesity in adolescence and young adulthood translates into obesity in adulthood and all the comorbidities associated with it, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure,” she said.

Jamie Bussel, a senior program worker at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that focuses on childhood obesity, said the pandemic had exacerbated systemic problems such as the lack of access to healthy foods in poorer communities and the ubiquity of junk food and sugary drinks.

“Covid really highlighted how careless our food system really is,” she said. “We need long-term political solutions. Otherwise, we just put a band-aid on a gaping wound.”

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