The Role of RDNs in Addressing COVID-19's Impact on Childhood Obesity

10/05/2021 - Adults are not the only ones experiencing weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic – a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of children and teens living with obesity jumped by 3 percentage points during the pandemic.

"Before the pandemic, childhood obesity rates in the United States were stabilizing but still alarmingly high and this significant increase in such a short period of time is particularly worrisome for the health of America’s next generation," said registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy Spokesperson Amy Reed.

"Parents should avoid the diet mentality to address their child’s weight gain but rather work with their family’s health care team and a registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure their child is getting appropriate nutrition," she said. "Adapting a healthful lifestyle is not a sprint for a quick fix. It’s important for families to understand it's a lifestyle change for the entire family with good nutrition and physical activity going hand in hand."

Based on a review of the electronic medical records of 432,302 people aged 2 to 19, the percentage of children and teens with obesity increased to 22%, compared to 19% before the pandemic, according to the report. The report notes this increase is likely due to a variety of factors, including school closures, less opportunity for proper nutrition and physical activity, disrupted routines and increased stress.

The Academy advocates for strong nutrition policy throughout the life cycle, including policies and programs that address healthful school meals and nutrition security. Funding for federal child nutrition programs continues to be one of the Academy's top policy priorities as these programs play a crucial role in addressing the rise in childhood obesity in the United States. The last time these programs were reauthorized was in 2010 and the current child nutrition standards are based on the now-outdated 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These programs, which support millions of America's children, are in need of modernization especially given lessons learned from the pandemic.

This winter, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics will publish two updated position papers on treating and preventing overweight and obesity in pediatrics including adolescents.