Stuffing Chips - © Michael Moss - Salt Sugar Fat Book

COVID-19: Stay Home Orders Could Make Kids Fat

A new study published in Obesity, the journal of the Obesity Society suggests that the COVID-19 stay home regimen designed to slow the spread of the disease could lead to a worsening of the Childhood Obesity epidemic in the U.S. But you can do some simple things to offset the risk…

Recipe for Obese Kids - © dhawkdesign.comExcess screen time and junk food are among the greatest contributors
identified by Rundle’s team to the promotion of Childhood
Obesity during the COVID-19 lock down…

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health got to thinking about the effects that the almost universal stay home order is having on our health. And they came to some unhappy conclusions regarding the Childhood Obesity problem.

Many schools will remain closed into summer

And that’s bad news for the kids if you want them to stay healthy.

Kids naturally get more exercise when they’re in school than when they’re out for summer holidays. They also get better nutrition from school meal programs than they get at home. And that summer weight gain appears to be maintained through the subsequent school year, compounding from year to year.

Researchers comment that the stay-home routine mandated by most governments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic allows even less opportunity for exercise and more opportunity for eating than the summer break. That’s bad news for parents who’ve taken up Baking as their sanity-preserving activity of choice during the lock down. But that’s the way it is, according to study Lead Author Dr. Andrew Rundle.

“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.”

Your stock-up food choices can make a difference

According to an abstract of the study report, many families appear to be stocking up their pantries to hold out over the pandemic by purchasing self-stable foods, many of which are Calorie-dense comfort foods, which tend to be ultra-procesed and extremely unhealthy, according to nutrition experts. We know that sales of Snacks and Candies have soared since the pandemic hit. Highly-processed heat-and-eat meal components have also enjoyed a considerable sales increase.

The worst aspects of the stay home regime

Increased screen time and decreased physical activity are highlighted in the study as the biggest problems, across the board, contributing to Child Obesity: “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.”

What the experts suggest

Obviously, Rundle’s team is suggesting that the new renaissance in home cooking is a good thing, aside from the danger of ‘over-baking’. When we make our own meals rather than rely on heavily-processed prepared foods and take-out/delivery, we can control the nutritional content of our meals to offer better nutrition. We can also control the amount of junk kids eat in front of the screen, substituting healthier foods.

In the U.S. many school systems are continuing to offer healthy meals for take-home during the lock down, and Rundle says these programs should be taken advantage of, especially by lower income families and those who live in food deserts.

The team also suggest that parents who are home schooling during the stay-home orders and schools that are providing lesson plans and resources for home schooling should include ample time in their routines for physical activity.

The takeaway

“The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for widespread sickness and death, straining healthcare systems, shutting down economies, and closing school districts,” says Rundle. “While it is a priority to mitigate its immediate impact, it is important to consider ways to prevent its long-term effects, including new risks for Childhood Obesity.”

My take

Rundle’s comments and suggestions for combating increased Childhood Obesity during the pandemic could apply equally to adults working from home or just staying home to look after the kids. Eating healthfully and getting enough physical activity during the lock down are issues we should all be addressing.

~ Maggie J.