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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Sound Health: Child obesity rose at an alarming rate during COVID

Grade school students stretching in classroom
Eric Stock
Social emotional learning instructor Abby Lyons leads a stretching exercise for fifth grade students at Oakdale Elementary School in Normal in 2018.

The CDC says child obesity have risen at a “substantial and alarming rate” during the coronavirus pandemic, and a pediatrician says bad habits kids developed during COVID restrictions could be harder to break.

In this edition of Sound Health, Dr. Rebecca Sierra with OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington said as children grow, there’s less concern about weight gain and more focus on good habits, such as healthy diet and exercise. Sierra said it was harder for children to be active last year during COVID shutdown.

“It was such a complex issue. It was hard to weigh the risks and benefits of shutting down and keeping kids home versus sending them to school,” Sierra said, adding the American Association of Pediatrics pushed for schools to reopen this year after seeing the effects closed schools had on children.

Rebecca Sierra
OSF HealthCare
Dr. Rebecca Sierra

Sierra said more families have struggled with food insecurity during the pandemic, leading to families buying cheaper, less healthy food.

“Kids didn’t have access to healthy school lunches. For a lot of people, they were losing jobs and didn’t have the resources they had before.”

Sierra said it helped that schools were funded to provided free breakfast and lunch to each student during the pandemic, regardless of a family’s financial status. She said she would like to see expanded access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Having healthier food available, however, doesn’t matter unless kids will eat them.

Sierra said parents need to set a positive example for their kids.

“I’ve had parents who don’t eat vegetables themselves asking me how to get their kids to eat vegetables,” Sierra said. “It has to be everyone is on the same page doing the same thing at the same time, so that the child wants to be like the parents.”

Sierra said even though children have plenty of time to grow into their bodies, the health effects from poor diet and a lack of exercise can be long lasting. “We are starting to see more and more young kids, 12, 13, 14 who are developing Type 2 diabetes and what we used to think of as adult-onset complications from being overweight and obese,”

Sierra said adding those children could also be at greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

“We’re definitely seeing that at much younger ages.”

Sierra recommends children get 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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