WSJ: Pandemic Compounds Childhood Obesity Problem

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an article outlining the disastrous consequences of the pandemic response on the health of children. Recent studies and observations from pediatric clinics have shown children gaining weight at every level:

  • previously normal weight kids are overweight,

  • previously overweight kids are now obese, and

  • previously obese kids are even heavier and developing chronic disease associated with obesity such as

  • high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyper tension, and

  • some went from pre-diabetic to full blown type two diabetics

  • developing Fatty Livery Disease -- a result of the liver trying to convert carbohydrates to body fat; essentially the liver runs out of space and gets sick

This is a massive generational injustice, but, JUST AS BAD, the lock downs negatively affected low-income and minority families WORSE than middle-income & wealthy families.

From the article:

The biggest increase in obesity was in children ages 5 to 9; their obesity rate went to 16.8% from 14.2%. Children and adolescents from lower-income households and those who are Latino also showed larger-than-average increases.

Weight gain as a kid is really bad for their long-term health, besides just the obvious things listed above. Here are some examples:

  • An overweight kid's body won't move as well

  • Normal play-type activities will be exponentially harder on the body -- running, jumping, playing tag, swimming will all be harder.

  • A sedentary kid's body is more prone to injury when they are required to move

  • ankles, knees, hamstrings, hips, back, shoulders, and neck won't be able to move the body efficiently, making it harder to move, and thus reducing overall desire to move

  • I once had an obese 15 year old client, we worked together for about 6 weeks and made a ton of progress. I checked in on him a year later and his mom told me he was slated to get surgery on his knees (because his ankles and hips couldn't support his weight and the knee was the weak point in the chain). Now he'll have scar tissue and mental resistance to stressing his knees. He's got a long life to live with those issues.

  • An obese kid's growth and puberty hormones are distorted compared to normal weight kids.

  • Obese kids produce less Growth Hormone overtime and their bones become less dense.

Weight gain at this age isn't something that can just be undone. It's a whole lot more delicate of a situation. When adults need to lose weight, it is easy for them to understand without being stigmatized. For kids, if they are overweight, they will feel stigma WAY more and will carry that label with them way beyond their childhood.

I know this because I put on a lot of weight as a kid and developed an eating disorder to lose the weight and struggle with body dysmorphia to this day.

Children learn habits that they carry with them their entire life. People can change habits, but it is way easier to start from better habits and go to great habits, than it is to go from bad habits.

Here are a few of the bad habits these studies have found:

  • Kids are moving less and snacking more

  • Kids are snacking on worse food because they're home, have access, and parents aren't home and/or are working from home and can't monitor their snacking as easily

  • Kids are staying up later and sleeping until just before their zoom classes start -- this pushes back their meal times, limits their physical activity.

  • Sleep is a major factor in metabolic health, hormone regulation, and mental health.

  • This study found a link between short sleep duration and increased insulin resistance.

  • The science is still out on childhood obesity and bone health -- obesity can increase pro-inflammatory markers in the bones and poor diet leads to less nutrient absorption vital to bone growth, but having more body weight increases structural demand on bones. It's a bit of a wash for right now, but I feel like being lean and moving well is better for joint health and therefore easier to stress bones with actual weight bearing exercise.

The article states:

“It’s easier to prevent obesity than it is to treat it,” says Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “Once that weight is on, our biggest challenge is to keep them from gaining at the same rate and to allow them to grow in height and to not develop an eating disorder in trying to lose the weight.”

And here are a few examples of kids who put on weight:

One 14-year-old patient who was already obese gained 37 pounds, and went from prediabetic to developing Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Shepard says. An 8-year-old who was obese but whose weight had stabilized before the pandemic gained 20 pounds, developing new onset prediabetes and worsening liver function related to fatty liver. And a 7-year-old girl in her primary-care clinic was in the overweight range at her last checkup in 2019 and gained 32 pounds, moving into the obese range.

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