Pandemic-related weight gain is becoming a problem for children and it could be due to the rise of eating processed food, recent studies suggest.
A new study from the Pediatric Obesity journal reports that unhealthy dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle may have adversely impacted children throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“Concerns about children’s health behaviors during the pandemic have been reflected through commentaries forecasting the immediate and distal effects of COVID-19 on children’s activity, sleep, dietary intake, and screen time,” the study states. “Initial cross-sectional and longitudinal studies indicate children are less active, consume more snacks, and engage in more screen time compared to retrospective recall of pre-pandemic behaviors or self-reported behaviors.”
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Study participants were examined for six weeks during the spring and summer from 2018 to 2020 through self-reported food, sleep and screen time journals and exercise data obtained through Fitbit Charge-2 fitness trackers.
Researchers for Pediatric Obesity found that participants experienced “accelerated weight gain during the summer months” and that trend carried over through the pandemic while kids stayed home for virtual learning.
A larger August 2021 Cosmos Study published in Epic Health Research Network analyzed more than 5.3 million pediatric patient records and found that one in three children (33.8%) in the U.S. have surpassed their expected weight gain during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Before the pandemic became a contributing factor in pediatric weight gain, children between the ages of 2 and 19 had been eating more “ultraprocessed foods,” according to research from JAMA Network – an open-access journal published by the American Medical Association.
The study, which was also published in August 2021, found that ultraprocessed food consumption increased from 61.4% to 67% among American youth. The spike was observed in 33,795 study participants from 1999 to 2018.
While the collected stats on pediatric weight gain are certainly daunting, food and health experts say there are ways parents can help their children make healthy eating habits.
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“Getting kids involved in the kitchen with healthy recipes, may make them more likely to choose healthier foods over junk food. Start with simple fun tasks like having them help spiralize zucchini noodles, turn the salad spinner, or roll oat energy bites into balls,” Mackenzie Burgess, a registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices, told Fox News.
She went on, “This hands-on practice allows kids to become more comfortable and familiar with these kinds of ingredients and helps promote healthy eating habits.”
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Dr. Andreas Michaelides, the chief of psychology at Noom – a digital nutrition and exercise coaching app – said parents can positively influence their child’s eating habits by praising them when they choose healthy foods and offering choices during mealtimes.
Foods he recommends include fruits, vegetables, hummus, peanut butter, salsa and yogurt-based dressings.
Michaelides also noted that parents should serve as role models if they’re trying to instill healthy eating habits.
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“Children are influenced by their environment and parental influence,” Michaelides told Fox News. “Your attitude and habits around food can lead to healthy or disordered eating thoughts.”