Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for poor health and chronic medical problems as they grow into adulthood. Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program team sheds light on childhood obesity, COVID-19’s impact on the problem and what we as parents can do to help curb a widening obesity epidemic.
Why is childhood obesity on the rise?
We made progress in reversing the childhood obesity trend over the past decade – but we’ve seen a big increase since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many factors contribute to the disease of obesity, ranging from genetics to a child’s social environment.
How has COVID-19 impacted the obesity problem?
COVID-19 brought a decline in physical activity and the quality of food kids eat. As a result, we have seen more kids with Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and other adult conditions associated with weight gain.
Has the decline in mental health impacted kids’ weight?
Yes. We are seeing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in kids. They may eat to make themselves feel better, which may result in unhealthy eating patterns and weight gain. Then they are at increased risk of getting teased or bullied because of their weight.
How can parents help their kids’ physical and mental health?
Open lines of communication are essential. Take time to talk to your child, listen and acknowledge their feelings. Other tips include:
- Make family meals a priority. Eating provides a distraction, and kids can talk to you about what’s bothering them. Talking throughout a meal makes you eat slower, too.
- Focus on your child’s health, not their weight. Emphasizing weight is harmful and can increase the risk of eating disorders.
- Pick one thing your family can do to be healthier – eat veggies at every dinner, drink water instead of pop, take a family walk a few times a week – and work on it together. After you incorporate that healthy habit into your lives, choose another one.
How can parents address their child’s weight issue?
A great place to start is a well visit with your child’s primary care provider. Along with a complete physical exam, the provider will talk to your child about healthy eating, sleep, physical activity, and home and school environments. If needed, the provider will refer you to Healthy Active Living. If your family struggles with food insecurity, your provider also can connect you with community resources.