- Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the pandemic's impact on child obesity rates, with body mass index among a sample of 432,302 individuals between the ages of 2 and 19 expanding at twice the rate between March and November 2020 as compared to January 2018 to February 2020.
- Those ages 6 to 11 saw the largest rate of BMI increase at 2.5 times the pre-pandemic rate. The estimated proportion of those ages 2 to 19 with obesity increased from 19.3% in August 2019 to 22.4% one year later, according to the report.
- The largest increases were seen among younger school-aged children and those with pre-pandemic overweight or obesity. The CDC report cites school closures, disrupted routines, increased stress, and less opportunity for physical activity and proper nutrition as contributing factors.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures and transitions to remote learning in March 2020, many students found themselves spending the bulk of their time at home in a more sedentary routine. While some schools still attempted to work time for physical education and similar activities into the day, doing so in a distance learning environment proved challenging to say the least.
"Some teachers especially struggle getting student engagement in our normal physical education class," Brett Fuller, curriculum specialist for health and physical education at Milwaukee Public Schools and president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators, told K-12 Dive earlier this year. "Now we're asking them to be physically active on a camera, from home. So that is probably the biggest challenge, and our teachers have really stepped up and tried to make things more interesting for their students."
School districts nationwide also went to great lengths to keep students connected to healthy meal options, though the difficulty in doing so varied by district. For some rural schools, for instance, families may have had to drive a considerable distance further to a meal pick-up location. In many of these cases, districts arranged for buses to drop meals off to students throughout the week, alleviating scenarios where a family may not be able to make it to a school building.
An article from Brigham Young University stated that school closures contributed to 17% of U.S. households with elementary age children experiencing food insecurity by the end of April 2020, a 3% increase over 2018.
According to The 74, the CDC report is in line with other research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet and the journal Pediatrics, with the latter two finding higher weight gain for children from Hispanic, African American, publicly insured and low-income demographics.
The JAMA study found that the portion of students between 5 and 11 who are considered overweight or obese increased to 45.7%, compared to 36.2% pre-pandemic, with a 5.2% increase for those between 12 and 15, and a 3.1% jump for those ages 16 and 17.