Doctors worry COVID-19 lockdowns could lead to future spike in childhood obesity

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the closing of schools, summer camps, playgrounds and sports fields leading to new research and concerns from pediatric nutritionists and dietitians the decrease in activity and change in eating habits could lead to a future spike in childhood obesity.

"We're actually seeing it in our clinic," said Dr. Samareh Hill, Medical Director of WakeMed Children's Pediatric Weight Management in Raleigh, a comprehensive family-based program focused on managing excess weight and associated health conditions in children and teens.

"Children are gaining somewhere between 5 to some 30 pounds over the quarantine," Hill said.

Childhood obesity has been steadily increasing over the last four decades, according to data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The impact of coronavirus closures and the sedentary nature of online schooling could be enough to spike the cases even more. Experts recommend following a regular meal schedule and keeping lots of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand while getting creative with exercise to combat the problem.

"What we recommend is to set up a time, maybe once a week, to go out of the home as a family and get a treat, you know, get some ice cream get a pizza night, but don't have it every night," Hill said.

"We're encouraging a lot of our families to go outside and go for walks because that's kind of what we have. The greenways are open, even walking around your neighborhood and try to go early in the day, because of the weather and or later at night. And you can maybe start slow maybe 10 minutes a day and just kind of increase as you like. And, for the hot days we offer a lot of our kids youtube videos to do at home. There's a lot of exercise apps that we offer for our patients like the Nike training app, there's one called Sworkit, and the Adidas app."

More than a third of youth under the age of 19 are classified as overweight or obese, according to the CDC. Childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index at or above the 95 percentile for youngsters of the same age and gender. Dr. Hill says her clinic works to manage weight in patients with a BMI of 95 percent and over.

"For kids 85 percent to 94 percent is considered overweight," Hill said. "For the pediatricians we recommend 85 percent and up to address those things earlier on before they become more of an issue."
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