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COVID-19 Pandemic Spells Trouble for Children’s Health

What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:

APRIL 15, 2020 — Although priority number one lies in controlling the spread of COVID-19, public health researchers are calling attention to the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on children’s health.

School closures could noticeably worsen the epidemic of childhood obesity that already threatens many children in the United States, say Paul Rundle, DrPH, and colleagues from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City, in a perspective published online March 30 in Obesity.   

“In part, we wrote the perspective to remind people that summer unhealthy weight gain seems to accumulate year to year,” he told Medscape Medical News in an email.

Rundle and colleagues estimate that time spent out of school will double this year because of school closures due to COVID-19. That, along with shelter-in-place orders, will pose challenges both for physical activity and healthy eating among children.

In addition, playgrounds have closed in many areas, and even where parks remain open, social distancing decreases opportunities for exercise. Team sports are on hold, and without physical education taught in schools, many children will not be getting as much active outdoor play as needed. 

That’s especially true for children in urban areas, who may find it even more difficult to exercise inside cramped apartments, they add.

As a result, more and more children may turn to sedentary activities, and increased screen time goes hand in hand with childhood overweight and obesity, not just because of the lack of exercise but also because of snacking on unhealthy, empty-calorie foods while glued to the screen.

“We were hoping to get the word out on this issue, do some education or reminding, and at least let people know that this should be something to keep an eye on, among so many other things,” Rundle added.

Excess Eating Because of Stress and Boredom

Jessica Sparks Lilley, MD, director of the Pediatric Diabetes and Lipid Program at the Mississippi Center for Advanced Medicine in Madison, agrees that it is crucial to address these issues.  

“Just like adults, children eat in response to emotions, including stress and boredom, and stress levels are high during these uncertain times,” she told Medscape Medical News.

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