COVID-19 and childhood obesity
Many of us have struggled with our weight during the pandemic, and kids are no exception. Pediatric endocrinology nurse practitioner Laura Szadek discussed how COVID-19 has impacted childhood obesity and what you can do if you think your child might be overweight.
The COVID-19 factor
Two modifiable factors – diet and exercise habits – have been affected by COVID-19.
“Community lockdowns, school closings and fear of decreased supplies prompted people to stock up on foods that have a long shelf life,” said Szadek. “These are usually processed foods, which are calorie dense and high in sugar. Job losses during the pandemic also led to financial constraints.”
Physical activity also was impacted. “Kids not attending school and the closure of playgrounds and parks led to a higher risk of a more sedentary lifestyle. We also saw an increase in screen time with virtual school, as well as more kids using social media and video games for interaction with friends,” she said.
Increased and prolonged stress can also have a negative impact on weight. Many kids have experienced isolation, changes in routine, parent stress, financial stress, and fear of COVID-19, which has likely affected their health.
However, Szadek said the pandemic has also promoted positive changes by families, including more family time, more home-cooked meals and families exercising together.
How do you know if your child is overweight?
Your child’s primary care physician determines this by accurately measuring the child’s height and weight, calculating their body mass index (BMI) and plotting it on a growth chart. In children under two years old, providers look at a weight to height ratio chart. A child is considered obese if their BMI is greater than the 95th percentile.
Why is it a problem if kids are overweight or obese?
Overweight and obese children are at risk for health disorders such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Insulin resistance
- Respiratory issues
- Upper airway obstruction
- Sleep disordered breathing
- Heart and vascular issues
- Elevated cholesterol/hyperlipidemia
- Coronary artery disease
- Left ventricular hypertrophy
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in girls
- Menstrual irregularities
- Insulin resistance
- Hirsutism (facial hair)
- Fertility issues
- Orthopedic complications
- Blount’s disease (bowing of the shin bones)
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis (a hip disorder)
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Neurological disease, such as pseudotumor cerebri, which is an increase intracranial pressure
- Mental health issues and bullying
- Low self-esteem
- Disordered eating
Obese children who are infected with COVID-19 may also experience more severe symptoms that require respiratory support.
How can parents help their children lose weight?
Szadek said children who haven’t reached puberty should focus on establishing healthy eating habits and regular physical activity. She recommends promoting a lifestyle that includes:
- Healthy carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, legumes, beans, yogurt, lentils)
- Much less processed foods/fast foods
- Lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish
- Regular physical activity
“Most importantly, use portion control, eat real food, and move your body,” said Szadek.
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, talk to their primary care provider.
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