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The COVID-19 Pandemic May Be Contributing To Higher Childhood Obesity Rates

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(AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
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In this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 photo, a customer picks doughnuts at a bakery in Bnei Brak, Israel.

Pediatricians have noticed a spike in childhood obesity rates over the past year. Doctors think the pandemic could be a contributing factor.Student reporter Olivia Streeter talked with UnityPoint Health pediatrician Dr. Nora Philbin about some of the factors leading to childhood obesity - and some ways to combat it.

OLIVIA STREETER: First question I have is, have you seen an increase in childhood obesity over the last few months?

NORA PHILBIN: Obesity has definitely been a problem in the last few years. And myself, my colleagues, and across the nation, people have started to notice. Doctors have started to notice that the problem is getting worse. So not only are the numbers of obesity rising for kids, but kids who had been normal weight before the start of COVID, have actually moved into the overweight or obese category over the last year or so.

OS: So what are really some of the things that have played into that with COVID? Obviously, being at home more, and so maybe less active, but maybe has, you know, maybe stress or worry or anxiety kind of induced some eating habits for kids?

NP: Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing is that kids have been out of school. So they have been away from, you know, daily exercise, sports, other physical activity that they've been doing year round. So that decrease in activity has been a big part of it, I think.

But also, I think, just spending more time at home and some level of boredom, you know, eating because you're bored, and you have easy access to sweets and treats and unhealthy food, I think has been also a part of it.

And then yeah, stress. Sure, you know, that's been a huge COVID has been a huge stress on families as far as employment and working from home and all of the different things that go into it. And that affects kids as well.

OS: Besides weight gain and that kind of thing, are there any other potential health risks that you anticipate to come out of this?

NP: Well, actually, I was reading an article today that pointed out vitamin D deficiency has increased in kids. And that's also because kids are not getting outside, or they haven't been getting outside as much over the last year.

OS: So what are maybe some ways that you can recommend to have kids stay active?

NP: Once the weather starts to improve, that makes it a little bit easier. You can get back outside. Walking, even walking 30 minutes, 60 minutes a day, simple thing to do with the family, everybody can do it. Get everybody's bikes out and get your helmets on, head out, start exercising, again, play in the backyard, lots of things that you can do outside, and also some of the sports are restarting, right.

So there's some sports ongoing right now. Now's the time to look into it, contact the school district, see what's happening and get involved. There's tons of stuff to do. It's just a matter of getting out there and doing it.

OS: What is maybe some advice that you can give to parents in terms of, what kind of food to shop for, what kind of skills, to provide that kind of thing? Kids are young and they're going to want to eat what they are going to want to eat. So what are some advice you would give parents to kind of encourage them to eat healthier?

NP: Really important, I think keep it simple, right? Hit the things that are easy to deal with first, right? So one of the biggest things are sweetened beverages, right? Sodas, sweet teas, chocolate milks, vanilla milk, strawberry milk.

So just checking it out. How often does my kid have juice? How often do they have soda? How often are we going out to eat? I mean, recommendations are always five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If your kids have no fruits and vegetables a day, start with one right? Find one fruit that they'll leave and and start serving that every day families are doing the best that they can. So be gentle with yourselves. Be kind with yourself.

OS: Is there a way to eat healthy while eating out?

NP: So looking through the menu sitting with your kids, you know, what can we eat on this menu that's going to be a little bit lower in calories or it's going to be healthier for us, right? Can we get a couple servings of vegetables and lean meat right working with the restaurants or talking to the server can can we get that without any oil on it? Can we get that prepared in a slightly different way that might be a little bit more healthy for us.

Restaurants are so supportive people eating healthy. I think just reaching out to them and being creative about it when you go out to eat.

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