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August 31, 2022

Pediatric Obesity Research Update | COVID-19 and Childhood Obesity

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Peds Update COVID 19 and Childhood Obesity

Each month, the OMA Pediatric Committee reviews a pediatric-focused obesity research update to help keep you up to date about the latest findings. This month's update addresses pediatric obesity and COVID-19.

Impact of COVID-19 on Childhood Obesity: Data from Pediatric Weight Management Trial

Article Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of both individual and public health. There is concern for an even more significant impact on the rate of childhood obesity related to the change in behaviors and social structures surrounding isolation and quarantine. This study quantified that impact. Read the full article.

Article Review

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually all aspects of life – social, emotional, and physical. Attempts to assess the actual impact of childhood obesity have been limited by study designs and the lack of specific data assessing body mass index (BMI). The authors of this report were already conducting a randomized controlled trial of children with overweight and obesity participating in a pediatric practice-based weight intervention.

The study took place in Central Massachusetts and included 20 pediatric practices. These practices were randomized to one of two conditions- families received either eight weekly nutritionist-delivered coaching phone calls with an accompanying workbook or the same workbook without the phone calls. The study compared weights via BMI for participants who completed treatment before or after the pandemic's onset. The study included 373 children aged 8-12 years with BMI >85th percentile (overweight) who participated in both baseline and 6-month follow-up. All baseline measurements were taken before March 19, 2020. The comparisons were made between those with 6-month follow-ups pre and post-pandemic. The pre-and post-and post-COVID onset groups were comparable at baseline. The participants who had their 6-month visit post-Covid onset had an average monthly rate of BMI increase 2.47 times higher than their counterparts who had their visit prior. This group also had a decrease in average movement minutes per day. Screen time and calories per day did not vary significantly between the groups.

The study showed that children with overweight and obesity had significant weight gain during the pandemic, which is consistent with findings from other studies. It also demonstrated a substantial decrease in physical activity during the pandemic. The unique aspect of this study was that it measured BMI specifically as part of an RCT.

The study highlights the need for evidence-based interventions specifically for children with overweight and obesity during any public health emergency, such as the recent pandemic. The authors recommend these strategies include screening during well visits for BMI changes and social determinants of health. One is food access, physical activity spaces that accommodate social distance requirements, and community resources.

Additional Resources

Find more resources OMA's Pediatric Committee curated on our Pediatric Resources page. There, you'll find additional article reviews on various topics related to obesity as well as public resources for clinicians and families.

Trivedi M, Frisard C, Crawford S, Bram J, Geller AC, Pbert L. Impact of COVID-19 on childhood obesity: Data from a paediatric weight management trial [published online ahead of print, 2022 Jul 25]. Pediatr Obes. 2022;e12959. doi:10.1111/ijpo.12959