Free-Range Kids

The Pandemic Is Making Childhood Obesity Worse

But COVID-19 isn't the only culprit.


Who gained weight most rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic? Kids.

In a study of 432,302 Americans aged 2-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found "sharp increases in BMI rates occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic… and younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases."

Before the pandemic, 19.3 percent of children were considered obese. That figure has now risen to 22.4 percent—which might not sound like a very dramatic increase, but keep in mind that childhood obesity can have all sorts of lifelong ramifications, from diabetes to heart disease to depression.

Why were kids packing on the pounds during COVID-19? The CDC suggests several possible factors, including "increased stress, irregular mealtimes, less access to nutritious foods, increased screen time and fewer opportunities for physical activity (e.g., no recreational sports)." Those are the ideas I'd come up with, too, off the top of my head.

But other researchers I spoke with had some different theories. Jay Beckwith, considered "one of the fathers of the modern playground," said it could be that overwhelmed parents altered the family toward "more comfort and convenience food."

Suzanne Axelsson, an international play activist, agreed, saying that it's possible the food at home was not only more convenient, it was also cheaper—thanks to strained finances—and hence probably lighter on the quinoa/kale quotient.

But Peter Gray, a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Boston College, said it may simply have to do with kids being home and hence near food all the time. "When you are home you can eat while you do almost anything," he says.

That's probably why kids were getting heavier over the years even before COVID-19. It wasn't just the lack of exercise, though a 2017 Johns Hopkins study did find 19-year-olds are now as sedentary as 60-year-olds. It's also that back in the day, kids were out and about playing so much that a lot of time they just weren't near a food source.

Gradually, childhood moved inside, thanks to the stranger danger panic, increased homework loads, and the ubiquity of electronic devices, meaning more kids ended up temptingly close to the kitchen. Even organized sports often feature a snack, and kids driven to and from those activities can eat in the car. School is almost the only time they are away from food for several hours. And of course, the pandemic rendered school virtual for many kids for more than a year.

When the CDC mentioned the loss of physical activity as an explanation for rising obesity rates, it referenced only "no recreational sports," meaning that even our health czars are not thinking about free play as a key part of kids' lives. It has dropped off their radar entirely.

It's unlikely that children will start slimming down again unless we normalize the idea of kids running around outside for hours on their own, far from the cupholders of the SUV, the snacks at the soccer practice, and the siren hum of the fridge just a few steps away. It's going to take more than the end of the pandemic to accomplish that.

NEXT: San Francisco's Chain Store Restrictions Targeted Starbucks. They're Now Screwing Over a Local Burrito Joint.

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44 responses to “The Pandemic Is Making Childhood Obesity Worse

  1. Their childhood is being waisted.

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    2. “Their childhood is being waisted.”

      Clever, I like it.

      It reminds me of a refrigerator magnet consisting of a drawing of a pig (in the form of a little girl standing upright and having a pig’s head) wearing a little skirt around her broad waist, on which is written: “Taste makes waist”.

  2. The negative effects on kids should have been enough to end lockdowns and put life back to normal for kids at least well over a year ago. Between this and the increased mental health issues, it is clear that we are doing enormous harm which will last for many kids’ whole lives.
    I’m really losing patience with people who make excuses for this shit.

    1. >>it is clear that we are doing enormous harm which will last for many kids’ whole lives.

      the goalpost they don’t move.

      1. I’m all for free-range kids, but if they’re not grass-fed, what’s the point?

        Oh, that’s not what you meant by “food”, is it?

    2. I seriously worry about child development when it comes to masking. I watched my 6 month-old as the family masked up at church and he was struggling to interact when he couldn’t see faces. Even his 3 year-old brother was more ornery when he couldn’t see how his parents were reacting to what he doing.

      Babies need feedback.

      1. Yeah, I think there is going to be a pretty damaged cohort from this. If you don’t get socialization and things like reading and recognizing faces at the right age it can be a big problem.

      2. This is why I am so grateful for the area that I live in. Masks were only required in very limited situations at my son’s school. The vast majority of the day was unmasked. For the most part, the pandemic was a small blip in our area. Really only the national chains required masks. As a result, I feel like my children came out of this fairly unscathed. This definitely does not seem to be the case everywhere.

    3. Lockdowns have clearly killed hundreds of thousands already and will kill more for decades. Is there any legitimate evidence that they reduced COVID deaths at all?

  3. “Who gained weight most rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic? Kids.”

    The only way that answer can be objectively answered is if child obesity data is compared to adult obesity data. But since the CDC still hasn’t released 2020 data on adult obesity (likely because adult obesity rates increased above 50%, up from 42%), the author’s assertion may not be correct.

    Regardless, obesity poses far more morbidity and mortality risks for Americans under age 70 than covid has posed.

    But of course, nobody in the Biden administration and none of the woke public health officials will acknowledge this fact, because they might be criticized and cancelled for “fat shaming”.

    1. Big is beautiful! (and fat shaming is a hate crime)

  4. No, the pandemic did not do this. The irrational and incompetent overreaction to the pandemic did.

  5. That was the goal, now everyone is high risk!

    1. But if you get vaccinated they’ll give you a free donut.

  6. The end of every day is the perfect time to let your imagination run wild and declare yourself to that special someone. A simple goodnight message can bring a smile, but a very passionate and romantic phrase is even better!

  7. Chubby kids are photogenic. It may just be a result of the Instagram crowd starting to have babies.

    1. “You can’t have a cute face and a nice ass at the same time.”—Marilyn Monroe.

      1. “Nonsense.” – Jessica Alba (circa 2000-2005)

  8. “The Pandemic Is Making Childhood Obesity Worse”

    “The Government Reaction to the Pandemic Is Making Everything Worse”


  9. The Pandemic Is Making Childhood Obesity Worse

    1. The Pandemic Is Making Childhood Obesity Everything Worse

      1. I’ve wondered (as have many Im sure), how would we have dealt with COVID if it happened in 1980, or 1990? Many more of those who got it may have died but would they have spent weeks in the hospital on a ventilator when the outcome would have been the same? Probably not. Eventually, they would have identified the virus and come up with a vaccine but by then most people probably would have natural immunity and they would not have locked down anybody because that would have been unthinkable not to let anyone go to work or school back when zoom didn’t exist. I suspect most people would have worn masks voluntarily if they were told that was the only way to prevent it like my generation was told that condoms were the only way to prevent HIV other than not having sex at all, but the masks would not be a political statement

        1. Without today’s genetics technology, we would have thought it was just a bad flu season.

        2. Fewer would have died because we would have focused on protecting the vulnerable and let everybody else go about their business.

          1. and more people would have exercised more outdoors, and got more fresh air and sunshine.

        3. How would we have dealt with AIDS if it first broke out last year?

          1. The virus would have been identified much more quickly, and businesses catering to homosexual hyperpromiscuity would have been quickly shut down. Then, there would have been riots.

  10. No need to worry. Government almighty will make sure that your children are well fed and fully vaccinated. Too much exercise makes them too tough for human consumption.

  11. My own experience has revealed that notable high-scoring adverse childhood experience trauma resulting from a highly sensitive and low self-confidence introverted existence, amplified by an accompanying autism spectrum disorder, can readily lead an adolescent to a substance-abuse/self-medicating disorder.
    It’s what I consider to be a perfect-storm condition with which I greatly struggled yet of which I was not aware until I was a half-century old.

    Nonetheless, I believe that if one has diagnosed and treated such a formidable condition when one is very young he/she will be much better able to deal with it through life. At age 53, I belatedly understand that my brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines. It is quite like a discomforting anticipation of ‘the other shoe dropping’ and simultaneously being scared of how badly I will deal with the upsetting event, which usually never transpires.

    Though I’ve not been personally affected by the addiction/overdose crisis, I have suffered enough unrelenting ACE-related hyper-anxiety to have known and enjoyed the euphoric release upon consuming alcohol and/or THC. The self-medicating method I utilized during most of my pre-teen years, however, was eating.

    Since so much of our lifelong health comes from our childhood experiences, childhood mental health-care should generate as much societal concern and government funding as does physical health, even though psychological illness/dysfunction typically is not immediately visually observable.

  12. This is why teaching our kids to hunt traditionally should be a priority. You go out at 0’dark thirty with a few strips of jerky and a thermos full of coffee. Sometimes you sit in a tree stand, sometimes a duck blind, and sometimes you stalk. No phablet, no PS-X video game w/ 45″ screen, no noise but the wind and the occasional call. If you’re lucky, you get to spend a day in the field enjoying the wonders of nature, if not you get to pack out or drag your own body weight or more of raw meat through the woods for – a mile?

    When you get back completely exhausted after dusk and are ready to eat anything even if it’s cold and out of can opened with an axe we say; congratulations kid, and now that you know where food comes from, have a good sleep and welcome to the club.

    1. Who goes hunting in the middle of the night? That was illegal where I grew up. You had least had to wait for sunrise.

  13. Poor author, dunno the ‘Healthy Eating’ advice of 10tsp of sugar/d (adult male), was based on lobbying from the Sugar Industry.Try Zero for obesity and Health, eh? Human physiology, Vander et al. ‘Sugar and HFCS are converted within 20 minutes to body fat by-passing the Krebs Cycle’. IIf you didn’t know that, you should not have written this Fake article.

  14. I don’t see the problem.

  15. Finally, some Lenore! This “shaming” business the nationalsocialistjugend have dinned into them by The Woker may be part of the problem. Not long ago “fatty fatty two by four, couldn’t get through the bathroom door” was advice. The only shame was in not taking it, and instead continuing to be a Blob.
    And remember, Fat Freddie says “Don’t forget to register and vote” *If you’ll be 18.

  16. Yesterday’s NYTs:

    “…two studies, published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provide additional evidence that masks protect children from the coronavirus, even when community rates are high and the contagious Delta variant is circulating.

    One study, conducted in Arizona, where children returned to school in July, found that schools that did not require staff and students to wear masks were 3.5 times as likely to have a virus outbreak as schools that required universal masking.

    A second study looked at infections among all children in 520 different counties across the United States, and found that once the public school year started, pediatric cases increased at a far higher rate in counties where schools did not require masks.

    The first study analyzed data on about 1,000 public schools in Maricopa and Pima counties, which include the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson, and account for most of the state’s population….

    The second study looked at the association between school mask policies in a given county and communitywide infections among children, finding that counties with no school mask requirement experienced a larger uptick in pediatric case rates after the start of school than counties with school mask requirements.”

    1. Where an “outbreak” was defined as 2 or more cases.

  17. Weight gain, depression, social isolation, deferred medical care, reduced exercise — an accurate accounting might show the lockdowns had greater negative health effects than the COVID cases they allegedly reduced.

    1. Good luck with recognizing any of that.

      We’re more likely to hear that kids gained weight because of rising concentrations of racism than we are to hear that government created circumstances contributed to any ill effects.

  18. When it comes to nutrition, or anything for that matter, your grandma knows much more than the federal government.

  19. Clever and witty post blocked by the squirrels.
    You will never know what you missed.