Doctors say beware of surge in childhood obesity rates amid pandemic

Doctors are warning parents of increasing childhood obesity rates. Children’s National Hospital’s IDEAL Clinic is seeing a massive influx of patients. It’s all thanks to the pandemic.

"One of the things we took for granted is that school actually provides a structure for kids, for mealtimes, physical activity and sleep," Dr. Nazrat Mirza, Pediatrician and Medical Director at IDEAL Clinic said.

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Dr. Mirza says because kids are home from schools they’re snacking more, not moving as much and their routines as a whole are off.  

"Kids are no longer getting physical activity. The fact that they used to walk to school, change from class to class and then have recess, that really adds up in a day and that’s gone now," Dr. Mirza said.

Dr. Mirza says within the last six months they’ve gotten over 600 referrals of overweight children from pediatricians. Typically the clinic gets between 600-900 a year. Dr. Mirza says she’s seen children go from the 20th or 40th percentile in weight to the 80th and 90th percentile within just one year. She also said she’s seeing children who gained twenty or more pounds in just a few months.  

"Obesity can lead to a number of long term health issues like cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, fatty liver disease and depression," Dr. Mirza said.

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Mirza says other factors impacting children’s weight are parents losing jobs which leads to food insecurity and overall stress from the pandemic.

"All of this was like a perfect storm. Already we were having high prevalence of obesity and then boom these psychosocial factors cause an increase," she said.

There are things parents can do to prevent or reverse weight gain. Dr. Mirza says to keep your child in a routine, limit snacks to 0-2 per day, fill their plates with vegetables, increase physical activity and sleep, and limit screen time.

When it comes to talking to your child about weight gain, Dr. Mirza says to do it delicately and don’t place the blame on the child.

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"We don’t lay blame on anybody. We just say that this has been an effect of everything that has happened this past year. It’s not like pointing fingers, it’s just saying this is what happened. Tell them, ‘if you fall down the you can a sit down and feel miserable or you can sit up, dust yourself off and start walking again,’" Dr. Mirza said.

Dr. Mirza also said parents need to practice what they preach and need to make sure they’re eating healthy around their children as well.