One in 4 children in America is overweight. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 2% to 15% rise in that statistic, say healthcare experts who study childhood obesity.
According to an NBC affiliate in Connecticut, stress, anxiety, and the emotional eating triggered the dangerous weight gain in kids. Experts say being trapped in their homes surrounded by treats was an inevitable problem for children during lockdowns in the first months of the pandemic.
"We were bombarded with families calling," said Mary Savoye-Disanti, M.S., R.D., founder of the Bright Bodies Weight Management Program for Children, in New Haven, Connecticut, which is affiliated with Yale School of Medicine. "People were anxious. People were scared. Families didn't know what to do. They kept their kids in the house. It wasn't even until months later that families let their kids out to even take a walk."
The diabetes and obesity expert told the news station the results have been "shocking." The Bright Bodies program has seen pediatric patients who have gained between 20 and 65 pounds over the last year. Savoye-Disanti calls the situation "heart breaking."
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has been studying obesity trends in children, and reported people of color and families with low incomes have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to USA Today. Children and teens living in households with incomes below the federal poverty level are twice as likely to suffer from obesity, according to RWJF. Families with food insecurity switch to lower quality food, said experts.
A study conducted by Northwestern University found 41% of Black households suffered from food insecurity during the pandemic, compared to 40% of Hispanics and 23% of whites, according to USA Today.
Children are also more sedentary than ever, say experts, which for the U.S. is not a good sign. America ranks 47th out of 50 countries globally in terms of physical fitness.
According to experts interviewed by the NBC affiliate in Connecticut, it will take 2 years of increased activity along with healthy eating to undo the results of COVID-19 weight gain. Here are some tips on how to cultivate better eating habits:
- Before you eat something, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you want to eat for another reason.
- Switch away from sugary beverages.
- Move every day, even if it is for just 10-15 minutes.
According to Exercise is Medicine, a division of the American College of Sports Medicine, being active can also decrease behavior problems in children and help them concentrate on their homework as well as boost their immune system. The experts compiled a handy guideline to age-appropriate exercise programs your children can do at home. You can find it here.
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