Childhood Obesity Skyrocketed During Pandemic Shutdowns, New Study Finds

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Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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The number of American children who are overweight or obese shot up by a relative increase of nearly 24% after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, a newly-released study from the University of Michigan and Kaiser Permanente Southern California showed.

Overweight or obesity among 5-11 year-olds surged from 36.2% to 45.7% between the pre-pandemic period (March 2019-January 2020) and the post-pandemic period (March 2020-January 2021). The relative increase of 23.8% among that age group was the highest of those measured, with kids aged 12-15 experiencing a 13.4% increase in overweight or obesity and kids aged 16 and 17 experiencing an 8.3% increase.

The study examined data for kids aged 5-17 from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California electronic health record database, and was adjusted for sex, race, ethnicity, state-subsidized health insurance, neighborhood education, neighborhood income and number of parks in the census tract.

A majority of the increase in youths between 5-15 was driven by an increase in obesity, the researchers found. “These findings, if generalizable to the US suggest an increase in pediatric obesity due to the pandemic,” they wrote. (RELATED: ‘Natural Immunity Is Really Better’: New Israeli Study Fuels Debate On Vaccination Versus Natural Immunity)

Previous research has indicated that an overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in countries with high rates of obesity. The study did not cite a specific cause for the increase in weight among kids, but some observers speculated the shutdown of parks, schools and similar facilities during the pandemic could be a contributing factor.