Childhood obesity on the rise during pandemic, doctors say

Childhood obesity has been a growing issue in the U.S., and now doctors say the pandemic may be making it worse.

Many adults had joked about gaining the “COVID 19,” meaning extra pounds, but local pediatricians say children are too.

If the problem is not addressed now, doctors fear it could lead to long-term health issues.

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When the world shut down, it impacted adults and children, even Belinda Windbish’s children who are homeschooled.

“The word of the Lord in 2020 is refinement,” she said. " We have found ourselves not around our people, play dates, sports -- activities that allowed us to be around other people and moving.”

Nine months later, Windbish’s pediatrician wanted to discuss her son’s and daughter’s weight. One was gaining, another was losing.

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“We all gained something and lost something, but I’m just not looking at weight,” Windbish said.

Dr. Angela Fals is the director of AdventHealth’s pediatric Healthy Weight and Wellness program. She said children usually gain about four pounds for every inch of growth, but now they’re gaining more.

“There’s a good amount of children or teens gaining about 10 to 20 pounds,” Fals said.

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And now, her program is in more demand.

“We actually see that we have a two-to-three month wait period to join our program,” Fals said.

The program provides support that tackles weight and the root causes of weight change, like if children are eating from stress or boredom, if they’re depressed, or sleeping more or less, all of which sometimes manifests in weight gain.

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“If we notice that weight is going up, it could lead to Type 2 diabetes or heart disease cardiovascular disease liver disease,” Fals said.

Dr. Loyd Werk with the Nemours Children Hospital’s Healthy Choices clinic said parents can take charge. If children are overeating, make a plan and get kids engaged in sports, even if they’re not organized sports.

Doctors said the first move for concerned parents is to talk with your child’s pediatrician. Before the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 18% of children were considered obese.

Cierra Putman, WFTV.com

Cierra Putman flew south to join Eyewitness News in July 2016.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.