Nav: Home

COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate childhood obesity

April 03, 2020

Public health scientists predict that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues expect that COVID-19-related school closures will double out?of?school time this year for many children in the U.S. and will exacerbate risk factors for weight gain associated with summer recess.

The Perspective article appears in Obesity, the journal of the Obesity Society.

In many areas of the U.S., the COVID?19 pandemic has closed schools and some of these school systems are not expected to re?open this school year. The experiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore suggest that social distancing orders if lifted after short periods will have to be periodically re?instated to control COVID?19 flare-ups.

While much has been written about poor food and lack of physical activity in schools, the data show that children experience unhealthy weight gain primarily during the summer months when they are out of school. Unhealthy weight gain over the summer school recess is particularly apparent for Hispanic and African-American youth, and children who are already overweight.

"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."

Staying at Home During the Pandemic May Contribute to Obesity

As households stock up on shelf-stable foods, they appear to be purchasing ultra-processed, calorie-dense comfort foods. In regards to physical activity, social distancing and stay at home orders reduce the opportunities for exercise, particularly for children in urban areas living in small apartments. Sedentary activities and screen time are expected to expand under social distancing orders; 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.

How to Prevent Childhood Obesity During the Pandemic

The authors present several interventions for reducing risk factors for unhealthy weight gain during the school closures:
  • Some school districts are offering students grab-and-go meals at school sites or via buses running along their regular pick-up routes. Research shows that food insecurity is associated with unhealthy weight among children, and addressing food insecurity will likely have long term benefits for child health.
  • Farmers markets, which often provide specialty and ethnic produce and prepared foods valued by immigrant communities. As such, cities and states should consider them as part of essential food services, but also create social distancing plans for such markets.
  • As schools build their remote teaching capacity, they should make physical education a priority, with home lesson plans for physical activity and/or streaming exercise classes.
"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."
-end-
The study's co-authors are Yoosun Park, Smith College School for Social Work; Julie B. Herbstman and Eliza W. Kinsey, Columbia Mailman School; and Y. Claire Wang, New York Academy of Medicine. Support for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (OD023290, HD101657, HL141427).

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Related Obesity Articles:

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.
Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).
How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.
Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?
Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.
Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.
Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.
Systematic review shows risk of a child developing overweight or obesity is more than trebled by maternal obesity prior to pregnancy
New research presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, Scotland (April 28- May 1) reveals that the risk of a child becoming overweight or obese is more than trebled by maternal obesity prior to getting pregnant.
Eating later in the day may be associated with obesity
Eating later in the day may contribute to weight gain, according to a new study to be presented Saturday at ENDO 2019, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in New Orleans, La.
How obesity affects vitamin D metabolism
A new Journal of Bone and Mineral Research study confirms that vitamin D supplementation is less effective in the presence of obesity, and it uncovers a biological mechanism to explain this observation.
More Obesity News and Obesity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Nina
Producer Tracie Hunte stumbled into a duet between Nina Simone and the sounds of protest outside her apartment. Then she discovered a performance by Nina on April 7, 1968 - three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tracie talks about what Nina's music, born during another time when our country was facing questions that seemed to have no answer, meant then and why it still resonates today.  Listen to Nina's brother, Samuel Waymon, talk about that April 7th concert here.