COVID-19 Pandemic May Exacerbate Childhood Obesity
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2020 Apr 15
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on ScienceDaily.
Public health scientists predict that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues expect that COVID-19-related school closures will double out-of-school time this year for many children in the U.S. and will exacerbate risk factors for weight gain associated with summer recess.
The Perspective article appears in Obesity, the journal of the Obesity Society.
In many areas of the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools and some of these school systems are not expected to re-open this school year.
While much has been written about poor food and lack of physical activity in schools, the data show that children experience unhealthy weight gain primarily during the summer months when they are out of school. Unhealthy weight gain over the summer school recess is particularly apparent for Hispanic and African-American youth, and children who are already overweight.
"There could be long-term consequences for weight gained while children are out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic," says Rundle, who specializes in research to prevent childhood obesity. "Research shows that weight gained over the summer months is maintained during the school year and accrues summer to summer. When a child experiences obesity, even at a young age, they are at risk for higher, unhealthy weight, all the way into middle age."
As households stock up on shelf-stable foods, they appear to be purchasing ultra-processed, calorie-dense comfort foods. In regards to physical activity, social distancing and stay at home orders reduce the opportunities for exercise, particularly for children in urban areas living in small apartments. Sedentary activities and screen time are expected to expand under social distancing orders; available data show that online video game usage is already soaring. Screen time is associated with experiencing overweight/obesity in childhood, likely because of the dual issues of sedentary time and the association between screen time and snacking.