During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of children and adolescents from low-income families who were overweight or obese increased dramatically, according to a new study presented this year at the European Congress on obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands. (May 4-7). The study is conducted by Ihuoma Eneli, MD, MS, FAAP, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues.
The cohort study of more than 4,500 young people (ages 2-17) from a large primary care network in the state of Ohio is one of the first to present results on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on weight change in young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. groups.
Childhood obesity has long been a major health concern in the United States, and researchers say the early pandemic months of full lockdown may have compounded the problem, further widening racial/ethnic disparities in obesity.
“The first few months of school closures, bans on social gatherings, sleep disruptions and lack of exercise, increased screen time and snacking, and increased stress and anxiety have created the perfect storm for having problems with weight gain,” says Professor Eneli.
We know that being overweight during childhood is difficult to reverse and, if left unchecked, can lead to serious health consequences, such as type 2 diabetes, as well as a higher likelihood to be obese in adulthood. Poverty makes both obesity and its negative health effects more likely, and access to obesity care is disproportionately lower in minority populations. This new data underscores why urgent action is needed to close the gap between the most and the least deprived to ensure that every child has an equal chance of growing up healthy.”
Ihuoma Eneli, MD, MS, FAAP, Director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics, Ohio State University
For this study, researchers analyzed data from the electronic medical records of youth ages 2 to 17 attending a large network of 12 primary care clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the state of Ohio. The network provides care to more than 100,000 young people, most of whom receive public insurance such as Medicaid.
A total of 4,509 young people whose weight and height had been recorded at least once during clinic visits before the pandemic (January 1 to March 30, 2020) and at least once at the start of the pandemic (June 1 to March 30, 2020). September 2020) were included in analyzes comparing changes in BMI and weight class after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether these changes differed by gender, age group, race/ethnicity, after adjusting for type of visit and time frame. Young people with complex chronic illnesses were excluded from the study.
The researchers found that the proportion of young people who were overweight, obese or severely obese increased from 38% to 45% before the pandemic; and decreased by almost 6% in the healthy weight category (see Figure 1 in the article linked below).
Overall, about 1 in 5 young people gained at least 5 kg (more than 4% gained at least 10 kg) and increased their BMI by at least 2 units. Average (median) weight gain was greatest in young people with severe obesity, who gained almost 6 kg on average.
Interestingly, among underweight youth, more than 45% moved into the healthy weight category, with a median (average) weight gain of more than 2 kg.
Further analyzes revealed that younger children (2 to 9 years old), girls and young people from ethnic minorities were more likely to move to a lower weight category. For example, children aged 2 to 9 were almost twice as likely to move to a higher weight category (eg, healthy weight to overweight, or obese to severely obese) than adolescents aged 14 to 17. . Similarly, Hispanic children and teens were twice as likely to move up a weight class as their white peers (see Table 1 in the article linked below).
Professor Eneli said: “This study reflects findings from the first 3-6 months of the pandemic. While families and communities have begun to adapt, the trajectory of weight change later in the pandemic may differ. and merits further study.With several negative pandemic-related child health consequences (e.g., increased mental health problems, food insecurity, deficits in immunization coverage and school performance), weight gain excessive should be a top priority for families, administrators or policy makers.
The authors note that this is an observational study limited to a single primary care network in the United States, which limits the generalizability of the results. Additionally, the researchers cannot rule out the possibility that other unmeasured factors such as lifestyle behaviors and sleep patterns may have affected the results.
European Association for the Study of Obesity