October 22, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Children’s BMI doubled during pandemic: shocking CDC study

In the wake of the pandemic, a generation of American kids will be faced with a higher risk of poor health in adulthood.

More than a year of upheaval, anxiety and stress caused by the global coronavirus outbreak has put a pause on doctors’ and patients’ efforts to address another American killer: obesity. And that disregard for physical fitness had the greatest impact on kids and teens, evidently, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed the rate of increase in kids’ BMI, or body mass index, “approximately doubled” last year.

Children who started 2020 at a normal weight, or overweight, showed an increased rate of BMI across the board, according to the new study, published Friday, while the underweight cohort saw little to no rate of change.

The surge was particularly striking among preschool- and school-aged children, compared to adolescents of the same body type.

“There’s definitely more obesity in the adolescent population,” Dr. David Buchin, director of Bariatric Surgery at Northwell Health-Huntington Hospital, told The Post. Unchecked obesity in childhood guarantees a greater risk of developing comorbidities in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease, to name a few. (It’s a risk factor for COVID-19, too.)

“In terms of bariatric surgery, this is one of the busiest years we’ve ever had,” he said. While adults are his primary patients, he’s seen kids as young as 10 under the knife for gastric surgery. His team performed a sleeve gastrectomy on a 13-year-old over the summer.

Dr. Jun Tashiro, a pediatric surgeon at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, also reported increased interest in his Adolescent Healthy Weight Program. It’s part of the steady growth the field of bariatric surgery has seen over the past decade or so, though the pandemic has done patients no favors.

“That’s one of the biggest issues that some of my patients have brought,” Dr. Tashiro told The Post. “This pandemic has truly caused them to backslide on the weight loss goals … or that they’ve become heavier than they’ve ever been before.”

The findings mean that kids who were already behind in terms of healthy weight now have even greater catch-up work to do. For those with moderate or severe obesity, “it’s very, very difficult to lose weight,” Dr. Buchin emphasized. “As an adult, as a child, at any age.”

While genetics certainly plays a role, health officials blame lockdown conditions under the pandemic for the spike, leaving young students without ample active playtime, or school-provided balanced nutrition for some underprivileged families. Moreover, the stresses of a lifestyle upheaval have left some frazzled parents without the time, energy or financial support to promote healthy habits in their kids.

“I see that in my own children,” added Dr. Buchin, who understands the struggle to pull kids away from screens. “It’s much easier to put them in front of the TV and just leave me alone.”

The CDC report was based on a database that draws from the medical records of more than 430,000 US children aged 2 to 19 years. Researchers targeted BMI data, a metric that accounts for a person’s height and weight, indicating whether their fat distribution is proportional, or points to obesity.

It is not a perfect measurement of overall health; rather, it shows doctors whether children are growing disproportionately at a rapid rate, indicating unchecked weight gain.

The rate of change among obese children during the eight-month study was 5.3 times higher during the pandemic, suggesting weight gain. On average, these kids gained between 1.0 and 1.2 pounds per month, the CDC said.

“Weight gain at this rate over 6 months is estimated to result in 6.1 and 7.6 pounds (2.8 and 3.5 kilograms), respectively, compared with 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms) in a person with healthy weight,” they explained in their report.

Researchers are calling for “increased access to efforts that promote healthy behaviors” and coordinated efforts to “facilitate healthy eating and physical activity.” Education in nutrition, fitness and mental health triggers jointly play a role in addressing the obesity epidemic. “Prevention is always the key,” said Dr. Tashiro.

Tashiro and others hope to see a correction in these “disappointing” statistics as the world slowly adjusts to changes prompted by the pandemic. Many families are eating at home more often with homemade food. As vaccine rollout continues, students are returning to schools, P.E. classes, team sports and outdoor playdates. And there may be a silver lining to this.

“I think we’ve also adapted as a society,” said Dr. Tashiro. “I think that’s where we’re going to be able to take up and kind of make progress on this specific problem.”

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