In-Depth: Childhood obesity rises during COVID-19 pandemic

CDC study shows startling numbers
Posted at 2:13 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 21:15:25-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A new study from the CDC shows childhood obesity rose dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The published study complied health records of 432,302 kids ages 2-19. It looked at their Body Mass Index from before and during the Pandemic.

Among that age group, the researchers found that "the rate of body mass index (BMI) increase approximately doubled during the pandemic."

That means children were gaining weight twice as fast as usual.

"It's kind of like a check engine light that something is happening," says Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer with Rady Children's Hospital. "For an individual child, it meant that instead of gaining one or two pounds over six months, they may have gone seven or 10 pounds over those six months."

In August of 2019, several months after the Pandemic began, the study found that obesity among children was at 19.3% across the country. One year later, that number climbed to 22.4%.

The study also broke down age groups and found kids aged 6-11 had the most significant increases, as did children already overweight or obese when the Pandemic began.

Dr. Schwimmer says the stress and challenges of the Pandemic led to the increase, as people fell out of their normal eating, sleeping, and exercise routines.

The extra weight gain can lead to several life-long chronic issues, like heart and liver disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes.

"We all experience varying degrees of chaos during the Pandemic, and chaos changes routines. Changes in routines then unmask those who are most vulnerable to weight gain," he says.

Sharp Rees-Stealy Pediatrician Dr. Cherie Chu says she saw the increase firsthand among her patients.

"If you had a kid who was following their growth curve previously like (normal), we're seeing (big) jumps up on that curve," Dr. Chu says. "That's pretty much across the board."

Now that the Pandemic is easing, Dr. Chu says she's seeing more patients ready to change back.

"While it's concerning, I feel hope that people can shift course now because we're back in school," Dr. Chu says. "We can kind of get back to what we used to do before the pandemic hit."

Dr. Chu says people can start to reverse their weight gain by following four simple numbers:

- FIVE servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- TWO hours or less of recreational screen time
- ONE hour of exercise or outdoor activity
- ZERO sugary drinks

"Get the kids when they're young and have them work on their lifestyle habits now," she says. "Because whatever habits you create when you're young, those are the ones you're going to have as an adult."

Dr. Schwimmer adds that returning to school in person will help give more structure to kids' lives, which should help regulate their weight gain. He also says it's important to resume regular health checkups with a doctor.

"Part of that should be having that annual or what should be an annual check-in with a physician and having proper things screened," he says, noting that parents should keep an eye on their children's blood pressure, blood sugar, liver chemistry, and cholesterol.