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Health Care

The COVID-Obesity Trap Has Claimed Children, Too

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Last month, I wrote about how imperative it was for us to escape the COVID-obesity trap: Lockdowns, and the general discouragement of physical activity (even outdoors) that they encouraged, had led to serious weight gain among many; meanwhile, obesity is a coronavirus comorbidity, making infection likelier and worse.

In that piece, I did not think much specifically about children. But a Wall Street Journal report from earlier this week revealed that they, too, have notched serious weight gain over the past year:

Doctors say they are seeing normal-weight children become overweight or even obese, overweight children become obese, and obese children add more weight. Doctors also report increases in weight-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. And some children with prediabetes are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes . . .

A May study in the journal Pediatrics found that the percentage of children ages 2 to 17 who are obese increased to 15.4% in June to December 2020 compared with 13.7% in the year-earlier period. Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia analyzed pre-pandemic and pandemic body mass index calculations from more than 500,000 visits to doctors’ offices in 2019 and 2020.

This is, unfortunately, unsurprising. The report assigns blame to the disruption of routines of eating and socializing that school lockdowns wrought. Children have also certainly been affected by the same general discouragement of outdoor and indoor physical activity that became the primary public-health message for much of the pandemic period, even though outdoor activity has always been extremely safe.

A rise in the childhood-obesity rate is looking likely to become one of the many effects of the coronavirus period that will linger in society once we have left the pandemic behind. To the extent that ends up true, I feel for the children, who are not really to blame here. Over the past year, they have undoubtedly suffered tremendously. You sometimes hear it said that they’ll be fine because they are “resilient,” but that is a horrid excuse to have inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted, the level of social anomie on them that they have experienced during this time.

Over the past year, when I have seen children out and about, I console myself by hoping that the younger ones will simply forget that this ever happened and their lives will proceed as normal. But I fear that for many, the effects will linger, and manifest in unpredictable ways in the years to come. If that’s true, then an increase in childhood obesity — which we should still work to correct forthwith — might end up the least of our problems.

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