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’Food is a very emotional thing’: Obesity rates increase in children as the pandemic drags on

Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 2:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The pandemic has increased concerns about children’s weight gain that is exacerbated by no in-person school, not to mention the cancellation of sports and other activities.

There are many factors that have made it more difficult for families to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the coronavirus pandemic such as increased time sitting in the house, additional screen time and unfettered access to home snack pantries.

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, obesity affects 13.7 million children in the United States and 340 million children worldwide. A study released by Trust for America’s Health, which based its findings in part on 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System, found that 19.3% of Americans ages 2 to 19 are obese, compared with 5.5% in the mid-1970s.

It leads to the question: Why are we eating more now when we know we shouldn’t?

“Well, stress. Emotional coping,” Haley Hughes a dietitian with Providence Alaska Medical Center said. “Food is a very emotional thing. It’s not always a bad thing. You know we have these birthday celebrations or family gatherings where food can be such a beautiful way to connect and since we don’t have some of those outlets a lot of people do sometimes stress eat or maybe they’re lonely or bored.”

Hughes says not to focus on the scale but to look at what can be controlled instead, such as what is purchased at the store and how time is spent. She suggests having children pick out produce and help plan meals.

“I think taking the pressure off weight is one of the most important things [parents] can do, you know it is a stressful time for everyone right now,” Hughes said.

Ben Griffith, the director of youth and family recreation at the Alaska Club, also suggests looking for small moments to squeeze in a workout. He also says parents need to get creative.

Griffith has been known to mix in “Star Wars” themes in his popular online kids’ programs that started when the pandemic shut down many parts of Anchorage.

“Kids aren’t going to want to exercise just to exercise,” Griffith said, “But whenever you start throwing in ‘Harry Potter’ themes or ‘Star Wars’ themes, it’s all of a sudden — they’re not doing just running in place they’re doing ‘Hermione high knees.’ Something to grasp their interests.”

Hughes also says try kid-friendly recipes such as this cauliflower pizza from her website and stay focused on healthy choices instead of what a scale says.

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