Childhood Obesity in the Pandemic

Before the start of the pandemic, about 20% of American children were obese. Doctors are now saying that about half of their patients have gained significant weight during the pandemic. 

Adults who have been joking about the “COVID 19” (remember the Freshman 15?) aren’t amazed that kids are also gaining some weight. But obesity in kids can have some serious health consequences. In fact, obesity puts kids at greater risk from the coronavirus.

5 things that lead to pandemic weight gain

  1. The top concern is simply that kids aren’t moving much. School days included walking from one class to another, playing outside at recess, sports or games, and sometimes walking or biking to school and back. Virtual schooling might be more about staying in one place for most of the day.
  2. Being at home all day can lead to all-day grazing. Snacks aren’t available all the time at school, but they might be ready at any time in your kitchen. Kids may choose to snack when they’re bored or when they need a break, as well as when they are actually hungry.
  3. It’s not just the amount of food, but also the kind of food that matters. Sales of snack cakes and other sweets have spiked during the pandemic. Consumers say they are giving themselves permission to be more self-indulgent during this stressful time. If snack cakes are in the house, students are more likely to eat them.
  4. Self-indulgence and stress are teaming up to make it harder to prepare balanced meals, too. Families are eating more meals together, which is great, but when meals are made hastily or include more “comfort food,” healthy lean protein and fresh produce are often omitted.
  5. For some of us, the pandemic has created new mealtime challenges. Some families may be relying on grocery delivery, which offers fewer choices. Other parents have been laid off and money is tight — that limits food options, too. Families that relied on school lunches and breakfasts may not have those meals during the pandemic. Access to fresh unprocessed food may be limited.


The American Academy of Pediatricians points out that families challenged by obesity are more susceptible to COVID-19. People with obesity are more likely to face severe coronavirus and complications from the disease. 

As the pandemic stretches out, think about these three steps toward facing the problem of increasing childhood obesity:

  • Make health a higher priority. We have limited amounts of self discipline. If you have to choose between a healthy breakfast and getting the beds made before school, this is the time to skip bed making.
  • Make small changes. Take a family walk every day or serve salad from a pre-made bag for dinner every day. Once that first good habit becomes comfortable, add another. You’re more likely to succeed than if you choose something like 10,000 steps a day or no sugar.
  • Celebrate progress. Give family props for snacking on fruit or enjoying five minutes of stretching, not just for dropping pounds. Notice and reward every victory

If you need support to meet the challenges of the pandemic, contact your pediatrician. You don’t have to do this on your own.

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