Childhood obesity an unintended consequence of pandemic

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 8:42 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With more kids at home because of remote learning, students are getting less access to adequate nutrition and less time outside with friends, and some experts say it has led to an increase in childhood obesity rates.

“As pediatricians, it’s something that we need to take very seriously,” said Dr. Hillary Anderson with UVM Primary Care Pediatrics.

It was an unintended consequence of being at home much more, along with access to the internet. Anderson says having kids in school is a great way to keep kids healthy, and healthy kids are what lead to healthy adults.

She points to a Philadelphia study published in the journal Pediatrics that found a slight uptick in childhood obesity across all ages.

“The COVID-19 pandemic itself has created a really challenging environment for kids and their families,” Anderson said.

Activities like sports were put on pause, CDC guidance called for staying home, nutritious food wasn’t as accessible and screen time increased for school and recreation.

“We are having a lot of conversations as kids are coming back in for their well visits and seeing a sharper uptick in their weight and BMI, and hearing from both patients and parents about the challenges of being inside more,” she said.

Anderson says a big part of keeping kids healthy is being in school.

“Between PE classes and recess, we really are able to achieve a good amount of physical activity at school that they might not get if they were at home,” said Josie Lang, the school nurse at the Malletts Bay School in Colchester.

She says having students back in school will hopefully lead to more healthy students physically, but they also commit to making sure students, even at home, have good food as well.

“Really just focus on really getting students the best nutrition that they need to be healthy kids and healthy learners. So, they really focus on fruits and vegetable nutrition and the school lunches are shown to have less sugars and calories than lunch brought from home. So, it’s just a good opportunity to know that all our kids have good access to healthy food at school,” said Lang.

She says for many students, school is their access to good food, which is why they hope to continue the free lunch program.

“Our goal is to continue teaching kids healthy eating and exercise habits so they will have lifelong healthy habits,” said Lang.

Dr. Anderson says it’s not clear yet the extent of childhood obesity during the pandemic but that it’s a great reminder to check in with your pediatrician for a checkup.

And with summer weather on the way, she says it’s a good time to get kids outdoors and moving while still following CDC guidance.

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