The CDC team used a medical record database to compare BMI changes in 432,302 US children between the ages of 2 and 19 before and during the pandemic. BMI is a measure that uses height and weight data to track changes in weight relative to height.
All of the children in the study experienced significant increases in their rate of BMI change during the pandemic, except for children who were underweight, the report found.
The increase was especially high in younger children and those with obesity.
“Preschool and school-aged children, particularly those with obesity, had larger pandemic-associated increases in BMI than did adolescents,” wrote corresponding author Samantha Lange, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s population health and health care team.
This may be due to closure of many child care centers and elementary schools during the pandemic, which reduced access to healthier food choices and organized exercise programs, according to the report.
In children with obesity, the rate of change was 5.3 times higher during the pandemic, which could lead to significant weight gain, the report said.
During the eight months of the study period, children with “moderate or severe obesity gained on average 1.0 and 1.2 pounds (0.45 and 0.54 kilograms) per month, respectively,” the CDC team wrote.
“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.”
The authors said the study is the “largest and first geographically diverse analysis” looking at the impact of the pandemic on BMI and the “first to show results by initial BMI category.”
The findings, the study team noted, suggest a need for “increased access to efforts that promote healthy behaviors,” including BMI screening and coordinated federal and state efforts to “facilitate healthy eating and physical activity.”
What families can do
Picky eaters and non-veggies lovers can be nudged toward eating vegetables by watching family members enjoy them, and by having a bit on their plate, night after night.
Turn off the screens, within reason. It’s been hard to limit screen time during the pandemic. Even experts who call for limiting screen time get that.
“I understand why you do it. I do it, too,” Swanson said. “But all of us have to work really hard to realize that it is a super easy solution and the harder way might be better and, in the end, might be more beneficial.”
CNN’s Ryan Prior contributed to this report.
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