The childhood obesity rate may increase 2.4% or 1.27 million children if school closures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus continue into December, according to the study, ‘Projecting the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on childhood obesity in the U.S.: A microsimulation model’, published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
"The harsh reality is, for the coming months or longer, the majority of children in the US may not fully resume their daily physical activity routines due to the nationwide closure of schools, gyms, recreation centres and parks, and cancellation of sports activities," said Ruopeng An, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University and author of the study.
On what scale schools will reopen after summer break are contingent on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, An said. The study's microsimulation models showed extended school closures would affect obesity among boys the most, especially non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.
The model simulated the trajectory of a nationally representative kindergarten cohort's body mass index z-scores (BMIz) and childhood obesity prevalence from April 2020 to March 2021 under the control scenario without COVID-19 and under the 4 alternative scenarios with COVID-19:
- Scenario 1: 2-month nationwide school closure in April and May 2020
- Scenario 2: Scenario 1 followed by a 10% reduction in daily PA in summer from June to August; Scenario 3: Scenario 2 followed by 2-month school closure in September and October; and
- Scenario 4: Scenario 3 followed by an additional 2-month school closure in November and December.
The results should that relative to the control scenario without COVID-19, Scenarios 1, 2, 3, and 4 were associated with an increase in the mean BMIz by 0.056 (95% confidence interval (95%CI): 0.055–0.056), 0.084 (95%CI: 0.084–0.085), 0.141 (95%CI: 0.140–0.142), and 0.198 (95%CI: 0.197–0.199), respectively, and an increase in childhood obesity prevalence by 0.640 (95%CI: 0.515–0.765), 0.972 (95%CI: 0.819–1.126), 1.676 (95%CI: 1.475–1.877), and 2.373 (95%CI: 2.135–2.612) percentage points, respectively.
Compared to girls and non-Hispanic whites and Asians, the impact of COVID-19 on childhood obesity was modestly larger among boys and non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics, respectively.
"Customised policy interventions are warranted to prevent further deterioration of weight-related health outcomes among these two socioeconomically disadvantaged racial/ethnic minority groups," An stated.
The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased threefold over the past few decades in the US. In 2017 and 2018, 18.5% or 13.7 million children ages 2-19 years were considered obese.
A report released in 2019 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reviewed childhood obesity data from several national surveys and found that rates had finally begun to stabilize and even decrease among some groups, especially preschoolers from poor households.
Health experts recommend 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily for children; and no more than two hours of being sedentary.
To access this paper, please click here