Eight months of unhealthy eating habits. More time in front of computer screens. Anxieties. Canceled sports and activities.
The coronavirus pandemic has been harmful to children's health, and pediatricians say the mix could lead to a spike in obesity that affects their ability to fight the virus.
Early studies on children's eating habits have indicated that the lockdowns meant to stop the spread of the virus are indeed leading to weight gain in children. One study in Italy found that three weeks into the mandatory lockdown there, children were moving less and eating more, potentially causing weight gain they could carry into their adult lives.
Pediatricians say they expect to see more overweight children, citing increased screen time, lack of structure they were getting in schools and delays in pediatric appointments.
"Just like in the adults that are gaining weight, children are, as well," said Dr. Elizabeth Steinberg, a pediatrician with Broward Health Physician Group in Florida. "They aren't shielded from the risk factors of being in home isolation and not getting enough physical activity."
Even virtual schooling is contributing to the issue, said Dr. Fernando Mendoza, a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Baptist Health.
"All that screen time isn't bad" if it's offset by activity, Mendoza said, adding that there is a correlation between increased screen time and a rise in childhood obesity.
Parents need to provide the structure that school gave their children when it came to eating and physical activity, said Dr. Tara Harris of West Boca Medical Center. "There are tons of free workout things like kids yoga and exercises on YouTube," she said.
Doctors said parents are also delaying pediatrician appointments and vaccinations over concerns about exposure to the virus in a medical office. Those visits allow doctors to monitor weight.
"This is not the time to back away from appropriate pediatric care," Mendoza said. "Get those annual and scheduled vaccines. It gives you the opportunity for the pediatrician to look at their BMI and give advice on how to exercise and incorporate that into their quarantine life."
Obesity is considered one of the biggest comorbidities in the virus, putting children at greater risk of complications if they are infected.
"[Children] don't really get that sick, but when they do, obesity is one of the co-morbidities," Mendoza explained. "You are definitely at more risk if you are an obese teenager or child than if you are not one."