COVID-19’s Effect on the Obesity Epidemic

Adults weren’t the only ones putting on weight during the pandemic. Kids and teens were, too.


During the pandemic, virtual schooling, cancelled activities and a lack of routine turned the habits of kids, adolescents and teens upside-down. Not only was this age group not as active as they had been pre-pandemic, but many sought comfort in their favorite foods because they were bored and felt cooped up.

We didn’t need a pandemic for kids and teens to be up against weight issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 children are either overweight or obese in the United States. Being overweight at a young age increases the likelihood that major health issues, like heart disease and diabetes, will occur later in life.

Life is returning to normal, with sports, activities and in-person learning making a comeback. But the concern is that unhealthy eating and activity habits picked up during the pandemic will be hard to break, resulting in more overweight and obese children and young adults.
If you are a parent or caregiver, here are 5 tips to help you encourage healthier habits at home:

  • Model healthful eating habits. Prioritize family meals and dine together several times a week. Make fruits and vegetables part of your own daily eating plan. Stock a healthy pantry and fridge. Establish a routine for meal and snack times. Avoid fad or crash diets. By engaging in these types of healthy habits yourself, kids and teens are more likely to do the same.
  • Steer clear of dieting. Experts do not recommend placing a child or teen on a diet for weight loss. Doing so may cause an unhealthy or disordered relationship with food. It may also damage self-esteem and ultimately prove to be ineffective. Instead, focus on building life-long habits that promote health, growth and development rather than weight loss.
  • Make fitness fun. Be active as a family on a regular basis. Skip rigid exercise routines and explore fun and creative ways for everyone to move more. Spend time outdoors biking, walking, swimming, hiking and playing at the park. If you prefer to be indoors, opt for activities like dancing, kickboxing and yoga – or head to a trampoline park and jump around. These activities encourage enjoyable movement that doesn’t feel like exercise.
  • Get everyone involved in meal planning. Kids of all ages can participate in meal planning, shopping and basic food prep tasks. This provides a sense of pride and empowerment that makes them more likely to eat the nutritious food they helped prepare. It also strengthens family bonds and teaches valuable life skills.
  • Foster a positive body image. Never shame a child about their weight. Instead, encourage open dialogue and listen to your child’s feelings, frustrations and concerns. Also avoid judging your own body, your child’s or that of other individuals. Focus on the incredible things your body does every day. For example, discuss how muscles support your body during activity or how eyes allow you to see beautiful things.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 7, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Beth Stark, RDN, LDN

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