Before the coronavirus pandemic, one in four children in our state and across the country was overweight. Now, national studies show that number has gone up anywhere between two and fifteen percent and the amount of weight some kids are gaining has health experts concerned.
They say the months of being stuck in our homes, just an arm's reach from pantries stocked with comfort foods is only part of the problem.
Mary Savoye-Desanti, MS, RD, CDE, is the founder and Associate Director of the Yale Bright Bodies Weight Management Program for Children and says she and her team knew immediately when the pandemic hit Connecticut, it would be trouble for their young patients.
"We were bombarded with families calling," the Yale School of Medicine obesity and diabetes researcher said.
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Stress, anxiety, and the emotional eating that go with them were just some of the multitude of concerns as she recalls the first few months our state was essentially locked down.
“People were anxious. People were scared. Families didn't know what to do. They kept their kids in the house. They literally had a 'stay at home' mandate. It wasn't even until months later that families let their kids out to even take a walk," she said.
And the results have been shocking, even to those with decades of experience in pediatric health.
The Bright Bodies Program is now seeing kids who have gained 20 to 65 pounds over the last year, which Savoye-Desanti describes as heartbreaking.
We spoke to a 10-year-old girl from New Haven and her dad, who did not want to be identified for this story. They said the past 12 months have been incredibly difficult because there was no walking to school, no playing outside at recess, or physical education classes.
The 10-year-old's family is enrolling in the Bright Bodies Program and they said they're already starting to feel more optimistic as the fifth grader said the easing of coronavirus restrictions means, "I can go to the park and walk, and do exercise outside."
The experts we talked to for this story said it could take two years of increased activity along with a focus on healthy eating habits in order to undo the results of Covid-19 weight gain.
Their top three tips for children and families are:
- Before you eat something, ask yourself if you're really hungry or if you want to eat for some other reason.
- Switch away from sugary beverages.
- Move every day, even if it's for just 10 or 15 minutes.
Bright Bodies is now offering virtual sessions in order to reach the increased number of kids who need help.