Story at a glance

  • A cohort of nearly half a million adolescents were studied for weight gain before and during the pandemic.
  • Researchers found that the proportion of obesity among those aged 2 to 19 rose to 22.4 percent from 19.3 percent amid the pandemic.
  • Obesity is one of the common comorbidities within severe COVID-19 cases.

Childhood obesity substantially worsened amid the pandemic, with new national data documenting an uptick in weight gain among young Americans.

Released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, the study documented outpatient doctor’s visits of more than 400,000 people between the ages of 2 and 19 years of age. 

Looking at these patients’ weight data, researchers found that the rates of body mass index (BMI) increase nearly doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with pre-pandemic data. 

Now, the estimated proportion of individuals between 2 and 19 years old with obesity among this cohort is 22.4 percent, up from 19.3 percent in August 2019. 

“Persons aged 2–19 years with moderate or severe obesity before the pandemic experienced significantly higher rates of increase in BMI, which translates to weight gain, compared with those with prepandemic healthy weight,” the authors wrote in the discussion. 

BMI is a ratio derived from an individual’s height and weight. It is used by medical professionals as a rough guideline to determine a person’s healthy weight class. 

Younger children observed larger increases in weight gain during this time. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 saw the largest increase in their rate of BMI change, a trend researchers attribute to children staying at home for school and being more sedentary due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

“This might have reduced the ability for some children to engage in structured physical activity and receive healthy meals,” the report suggests. “These findings underscore the importance of obesity prevention and management efforts during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during future public health emergencies, including increased access to efforts that promote healthy behaviors.”

A vast majority of participants in the large cohort identified as white, with a plurality of 45.7 percent being from the South.

Obesity in the U.S. has been a longstanding public health concern well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC reports that obesity is becoming more common among children and adolescents, affecting about one in five children nationwide. 

As the pandemic overtook life in the U.S., public health professionals discovered various preexisting health conditions can worsen COVID-19 infections, with obesity being one of the most prominent comorbidities or coexisting conditions among patients with severe COVID-19 infections. 

Published on Sep 17, 2021