Whether we label them colluders, allies, mutual enablers, partners in crime, teammates, a pair of matched bullies, gang leaders, the Grim Twins, the Mob of Two, or any other fanciful name, the situation remains unchanged. Obesity and the coronavirus, having apparently sworn a blood oath to support each other to the bitter end, are still thick as thieves.
Sometimes, awareness of their depredations sneaks up on us. Given all the other terrifying events of the pandemic era, a 2% increase in childhood obesity might not sound like a big deal, but many pediatricians see that figure as a very big deal indeed. Two things about childhood obesity have become starkly apparent: the earlier it takes hold, the harder it is to stop; and the longer it exists in an individual, the more difficult it is to reverse. COVID has done a splendid job of diverting attention and keeping the public mind occupied so that its bosom buddy, obesity, could make unprecedented headway.
A study published by Pediatrics in May turned the spotlight on patients cared for by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The institution’s Care Network encompasses almost 30 urban, suburban, and semi-rural clinics around Philadelphia. The patients the researchers looked at were, on average, just over nine years old, and ranged from two to 17 years, almost evenly divided between girls and boys
Not surprisingly, race, ethnicity, and wealth figured heavily in the results. The disparities have become more obvious than ever. According to the study,
Nearly 25% of Hispanic/Latino or non-Hispanic Black patients seen during the pandemic were obese, compared with 11.3% of non-Hispanic White patients.
Sandra Hassink, M.D., of the Institute of Healthy Childhood Weight, told the press that the reasons include parental unemployment and children’s loss of access to healthful meals that they used to receive at school. Not surprisingly, the loss of access to physical exercise opportunities and the increase of time spent staring at electronic screens also contribute to the crisis.
Professionals had already become used to the seeming paradox of children gaining too much weight during summer breaks, but the pandemic has been an extended period with all the disadvantages of summer and none of its advantages. Medical personnel are warned to keep an eye out for such obesity co-morbidities as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, liver disease, and malfunctioning knee joints.
Guidance issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in December advised doctors to counsel parents about “maintaining healthy nutrition, minimizing sedentary time, and getting enough sleep and physical activity.” Meanwhile, doctors and therapists have made the point that while BMI is relatively easy to measure and track, the loss of progress in learning and the decline of mental health among children, while certainly apparent, are more difficult to measure.
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