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Children and Teens Saw Significant Weight Gain During Pandemic

Sep 21, 2021

Children and adolescents gained weight at a significantly faster rate during the pandemic than compared to pre-pandemic levels

The rate at which children and adolescents in the U.S. gained weight nearly doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with younger school-aged children and those already experiencing obesity before the pandemic seeing the largest increases. The study, which compared the body mass index of more than 400,000 children and adolescents ages 2 to 19, found that the share of obese children and teens increased from 19% pre-pandemic to 22% nationally.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents spent more time than usual away from structured school settings, and families who were already disproportionally affected by obesity risk factors might have had additional disruptions in income, food, and other social determinants of health," the report says. "As a result, children and adolescents might have experienced circumstances that accelerated weight gain." According to the CDC, obesity is a serious health concern in the U.S., where more than 1 in 6 children are affected, putting their "long-term health and quality of life at risk." And as children and teens spent more time away from school settings during the pandemic, they may have experienced circumstances that sped up weight gain, the report says, along with experiencing increased stress, irregular mealtimes, increased screen time and fewer opportunities for physical activity.

Children ages 6-11 experienced the largest increase in their BMI change, at 2.5 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Those with moderate or severe obesity before the pandemic also saw significantly higher rates of increase in their weight gain compared to those with healthy pre-pandemic weight.

"These findings underscore the importance of efforts to prevent excess weight gain during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during future public health emergencies, including increased access to efforts that promote healthy behaviors," the report says.

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