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Pediatric obesity in relation to COVID-19

Last Modified: March 21, 2021

Women & Children

pediatric obesity

In honor of National Nutrition Month, we wanted to examine the effects of the current pandemic on pediatric and childhood obesity. Join Josie Klink, NP, PPG – Pediatric Gastroenterology, as she answers our questions regarding this growing health concern.

What is pediatric or childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity is determined by a child’s body mass index (BMI). The guidelines for being overweight are defined as having a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. If a child’s BMI is at or above the 95th percentile, he/she is deemed obese.

How does obesity normally develop in children?

The causes of excess weight gain in children are similar to those in adults. Children become obese due to the following:

  • Behavioral factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Limited physical activity
  • Medical conditions
How has COVID-19 impacted these numbers?

Lifestyle changes including stay-at-home orders, physical distancing, closed schools, changes in daycare, stress in the home, financial complications, and increased screen time with decreased extracurricular activities have led to an increase in pediatric obesity.

What are the health consequences of childhood obesity?

The most common consequences of childhood obesity include shortness of breath, sleep apnea, constipation, gastroesophageal reflux, fatty liver disease, joint problems, early puberty, poor self-esteem and heart disease.

The long-term consequences of childhood obesity include an increased risk of being overweight or obese as an adult, an increased risk for medical problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, reproductive issues, some cancers and psychosocial disabilities, including social isolation and depression.

How can obesity in children be prevented?

It’s best to develop healthy eating habits and limit calorie-rich temptations to prevent childhood obesity. For example, provide a variety of fruits and vegetables and limit the consumption of sugar and saturated fats. Have children choose whole grains, lean meats and drink plenty of water. Help children stay physically active by reducing sedentary time and encouraging at least 60 minutes of play every day. It’s important for the whole family to make these lifestyle changes to increase the chances of success.

If parents and caregivers are concerned, where can they turn for guidance?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are great resources to learn more about healthy eating and staying active. Talk with your pediatrician or dietitian about proactive steps to stay healthy. Parkview Health also offers nutrition education by registered dietitians for both adults and pediatrics. If needed, you may request a referral from your primary care physician.

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