Weight Gain in Children During the Pandemic
The Years after COVID
With almost two years since the pandemic lockdown, we are now able to see the longitudinal effects of COVID-19, including the potential for excess weight gain leading to obesity. Post-pandemic, obesity levels have increased dramatically, particularly among children and adolescents.
Obesity risk in children and adolescents after COVID
A recent study examined the effect of the pandemic on body mass index (BMI – a measure of weight and obesity) among almost 7,000 children aged 10 to 12 years assessed before and just over 1,000 during the COVID pandemic.
The data showed greater increases in BMI over time in both male and female participants exposed to the pandemic compared with controls, with females during the pandemic gaining an average of 6.8 kg per year. Males’ average weight increased on average from 5.7 kg to 6.6 kg per year. Additionally, exposure to the pandemic was associated with a further 24% increase in weight gain for female children from lower income families.
The reasons behind the excess weight gain are unclear but may have included inactivity, switching to less healthy “comfort” food.
Why excess weight gain in children matters
Increases in excess weight gain and obesity in children is a driver of the growth in the number of children and young people developing type 2 diabetes. In younger people, this type of diabetes is very serious and can lead to a dramatic increase in the risk of heart disease, and damage to the eyes and kidneys which can be very difficult to treat in this age group. Overall, obesity in children and young people is a public health emergency in the United States. This is especially important for communities already facing a disproportionate burden of diabetes and health disparities.