Since the global pandemic began in late 2019, pediatricians across the world are noticing a disturbing trend among children, the obesity rates are growing to unprecedented numbers. “We knew heading into the pandemic that childhood obesity was a problem, and what we're seeing since the pandemic has started, is that rates of obesity are on the rise in kids that we're taking care of," says Minnesota pediatrician Angela Kade Goepferd. Goepferd has claimed some of the children she’s treated have gained over 20lbs since she last saw them in March1.
The national lockdown, and mandated school closings are seen as the biggest culprit, in children’s weight gain. No in-person school means no physical education classes, for some, no sports, and no access to healthy foods. “Just the moving around that kids naturally do in schools. They're moving around their classroom; they're moving from classroom to classroom,” Goepferd says. “And right now, they're home sitting in front of computers all day long, so kids have become incredibly sedentary1.”
Pediatricians, when observing their patients, need to take note that children see as they do. Stress to the parents that they to need to practice healthier eating and dieting habits, and to implore their children to commit to a daily exercise routine.
These questions listed below should be the most important talking points a pediatrician has during their patient consultations.
- How is the family eating?
- What is the family’s activity pattern?
- Where is your family getting their food from?
- Is your family eating homecooked meals?
- Are you or your family stressed at home?
"Stress is more powerful than we think,” said Danette Peterson, registered dietician with Profile by Sanford. “It can create brain changes, memory loss, depression, anxiety, it affects our cardiovascular system, our immune system which is extremely important right now in the middle of a pandemic”. Stress is also one of the leading causes that contributes to weight gain2.
So how do pediatricians get their patients and their families, to destress, exercise and eat healthier? Well, many pediatricians point to having a network, as a leading factor for maintaining health goals. “Be creative and use things like technology to connect with people, maybe share some meal ideas,” says Peterson2.
Also, pediatricians should emphasize to their patients the importance of a healthy sleep cycle. Maintaining healthy sleeping habits keeps the brain refreshed and gives the individual energy they use throughout the day.
Why pediatricians should be highlighting the importance of movement to their patients
60 minutes of physical activity a day is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, yet most kids have remained inactive during the coronavirus era. Not only will physical activity help children stay fit but will also help them focus on their schoolwork.
“Setting a timer for your child, to give them that auditory reminder of – I gotta get up and move, I gotta get up and stretch. It’s easier for them to focus on their schoolwork once they’ve gotten their wiggles out. Kids tend to be wiggly, they’re supposed to be wiggly, so it’s best to give them that reminder to get up and be active for a few minutes, and then they can sit down and focus better on their school work to do their best academic learning,” said Krista Bakkedahl, Billings, a Clinical pediatric physical therapist3.
Attention spans vary by age, so pediatricians should recommend to their patient’s parents that younger children should get up and move every 15 minutes, and older middle school students should move every half hour.
Pediatricians should stress to their patient’s parents how pivotal home activity is to their children’s health. A few home activities pediatricians should recommend are running in place, jumping jacks, marching, frog jumps, stretching, and squats.
Lastly, pediatricians should recommend the importance of movement to their patients, because a lack of visual cues can be especially hard on children with hearing loss and autism. Many pediatric speech-language pathologists, like Katie Sam are concerned about the speech development in children during this pandemic. “As kids are learning to communicate effectively, there’s just so many sounds they need to make and our tongue has so many complicated movements to make some of those sounds, and some of them are really challenging. In particular, T, H, and R. And then sometimes they can be hard to understand, even in kids who aren’t having difficulty being understood. Behind a mask, the sound ‘f,’ as well as the sound ‘th,’ essentially sound the same. So we usually use a visual cue to see those when we are talking,” Sam said. Pediatricians should suggest to their patients and their parents, that they use clear masks, and over articulate when lip and tongue movements are not visible2.
Sensory play is extremely important in children’s development. Pediatric occupational therapist Tanya Sciuchetti says parents should “try to make sensory play a priority because that’s what’s going to help keep your child more calm and regulated. And we need these sensory experiences just for overall good development and development of our coordination, better attention, better focus. They’re just so important for our overall development.” Schiuchetti would go on to say how sensory play also helps develop cognitive skills used in math, science, and problem solving3.
Some examples of sensory play pediatricians can recommend to their patients3:
-Build and engage in an obstacle course at home.
-Weather permitting, visit a playground.
-Create sensory bins with objects hidden by sand, rice, or beans
-Create a water play station in the kitchen sink, bathtub, or in a bowl
Pediatricians should warn their patient’s parents that the activities listed above, and any other related form of exercise their children participate in, should be accompanied by adult supervision.
If pediatricians would like to continue learning how the global pandemic has affected their patient’s mental health, there is a CME journal that specializes on this topic, and you can sign up here.
- Rena Sarigianopoulos; Pediatricians raise concerns over rising obesity among kids during pandemic; October 2020, ABC10
- Rena Sarigianopoulos; Pandemic Pounds; packed on a few? Us too; November 2020, Kare11
- Victoria Hill; Pediatric therapists highlight importance of movement during pandemic; February 2021, Q2