How The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Impacted Childhood Obesity

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of childhood obesity has increased from 19% to 22%, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study showed that obesity in children ages 6 to 11 increased the most. “During the height of the pandemic, parents were stressed, working from home and kids likely had more liberty to eat what they wanted,” says Jordan Kridler, M.D., a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health System. “When kids can go to the cupboard themselves, they’re probably not going to reach for fruits and vegetables.”

For all children regardless of age, the dramatic change in routine may have been a culprit. A lack of scheduled, proportioned meals combined with decreased physical exercise—not even walking in between classes or to and from school—likely led to a more sedentary lifestyle with a kitchen that was always within reach.

Decreased face-to-face social interaction may have also led to depression (particularly in teens), which can fuel unhealthy eating habits, adds Dr. Kridler.

How Obesity Can Affect Children

Children with obesity are at a greater risk for health problems such as:

  • High cholesterol and blood pressure, which could lead to cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones and heartburn
  • Joint problems

“What I try to reiterate to parents is that it’s a matter of their child’s long-term health,” says Dr. Kridler. “Some kids are just built heavier—it’s genetic and that’s okay. But eating well and getting physical activity are so important. If kids don’t have healthy eating habits when they’re younger, they are at a greater risk of obesity when they’re older. It’s hard to change your mindset and create new habits as an adult.”

Promoting Healthy Habits

Dr. Kridler recommends keeping rich and sugary snacks on higher shelves so they’re not easy to access. Instead, put out apples, grapes, celery sticks, carrots. Make it fun—add peanut butter and cinnamon to apples or raisins and peanut butter to celery sticks.

Along with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, running around outside is equally important. “It’s not only what you’re putting in your body,” Dr. Kridler says. “Being active is so good for your physical and mental health—it raises endorphins and makes you happy.”

Finally, practice what you preach: if you tell your kids they have to eat fruits and vegetables, you should, too. “It’s a balance,” says Dr. Kridler. “Some days you have a salad and other days ice cream. Everything in moderation.” 

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To find a pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Jordan Kridler is a board-certified pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak.

Categories: ParentWell