Nearly half of the nation’s children aged 5 through 11 now qualify as either overweight or obese, according to results of a new study out Friday.
Researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan found the proportion of U.S. children aged between 5 and 11 who were overweight or obese based on body mass index (BMI) rose from just more than 36 percent pre-pandemic to nearly 46 percent over the course of prolonged classroom closures.
“School is essential,” said Dr. Tim Logemann of the Wausau Aspirus Hospital Cardiologist and Obesity Treatment Program in Wisconsin, who placed blame directly on school absence while the authors of the study refrained from assigning cause. “Kids are eating ultra-processed foods locked in at home and it’s making them sicker.”
A literature review on effective strategies for childhood obesity prevention published in May of last year lends credence to Logemann’s claim. According to a team of 19 European researchers who reviewed more than 400 studies from 2000 to January 2015, school-based programs to mitigate childhood obesity were found far more effective than seminars directed at parents to teach healthy living at home.
Effective interventions, researchers wrote, included teacher counseling and teacher role-modeling, availability of healthy cafeteria options, limitation of unhealthy alternatives, changes in recess practices, promotion of physical education and parental involvement “via assignments, meetings, informative material and encouraging them to improve the home environment.”
“Use of incentives for children, social marketing techniques, collaboration with local stakeholders were found to increase effectiveness,” they wrote. “Programs that focused only on educational sessions and material for parents, without promoting relevant environmental and policy changes, were found to be less effective.”
A year of at-home Zoom instruction, however, has now brought devastating consequences beyond cognitive decline. Childhood obesity has been linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression, compounding the already severe health risks that come with excess weight long-term such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
“Childhood obesity is hard to erase,” Dr. Logemann warned The Federalist, noting children in their adolescence develop hard-to-beat habits and enter adulthood with changed physiology prone to illnesses outlined above.
Baseline obesity rates were already high pre-COVID, considering more than 1 in 3 children aged 5 through 11 were considered overweight or obese based on BMI, but that was not the only group to gain pandemic weight. Those aged 12 through 15 and 16 through 17 also gained an average of 5 and 2.3 pounds, respectively, according to the study from the Michigan and California researchers.
“Most of the increase among youths aged 5 through 11 years and 12 through 15 years was due to an increase in obesity,” they wrote.
Even worse, obese children today are on track to approach the next pandemic in even worse shape than their parents did COVID-19. More than 42 percent of Americans qualified as “obese” in 2017-2018, a 31 percent rise from 20 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). More than 70 percent of adults 20 years old and older are overweight. Data early on revealed obesity as a primary co-morbidity to the novel coronavirus that tripled an individual’s risk of hospitalization.
Absent cultural shifts to reverse trends promoted by the fat-acceptance movement condemning the promotion of healthy lifestyles, the outlook is grim for the next generation.
In December 2019, an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine projected nearly 60 percent of those aged between 2 and 19 in 2016 will be obese by the time they’re 35. But that was written months before the coronavirus pandemic, which has likely accelerated the timeline for the authors’ prophecy to come true far sooner.
“The obesity crisis is a crisis, it is the true pandemic,” Logemann told The Federalist. He stressed Americans need to go “back to basics” with their diets.
“Eat your vegetables, like your grandma says,” Logemann said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated… At the end of the day, just eat good, real food.”
That means stay away from chips and soda, and keep it out of the home and classroom.