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COVID-19 May Drive Increase in Childhood Obesity Rates

Lack of physical activity associated with extended school closings could increase rates by 2.4 percent

overweight boy

MONDAY, June 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. childhood obesity rate may increase by 2.4 percent if school closures continue into December as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online May 23 in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.

Ruopeng An, Ph.D., from Washington University in St. Louis, created a microsimulation model to estimate the impact of COVID-19 on childhood obesity. The control scenario used childhood obesity prevalence rates from April 2020 to March 2021 without COVID-19 and compared these rates to four alternative scenarios with COVID-19. Scenario 1 involved a two-month nationwide school closure in April and May 2020; scenario 2 involved scenario 1 followed by a 10 percent reduction in daily physical activity from June to August; scenario 3 involved scenario 2 followed by a two-month school closure in September and October; and scenario 4 involved scenario 3 followed by an additional two-month school closure in November and December.

An found that scenarios 1, 2, 3, and 4 were associated with increases in mean body mass index z-scores of 0.056, 0.084, 0.141, and 0.198, respectively. Similarly, they were each associated with increases in childhood obesity prevalence rates of 0.640, 0.972, 1.676, and 2.373 percentage points, respectively. The impact of COVID-19 on childhood obesity was modestly larger among boys versus girls and among non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics compared with non-Hispanic whites and Asians.

"Public health interventions are urgently called to promote an active lifestyle and engagement in physical activity among children to mitigate the adverse impact of COVID-19 on unhealthy weight gains and childhood obesity," An writes.

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