Pandemic, remote learning could be contributing to juvenile obesity

children snacking during remote learning
Posted at 5:55 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 21:04:02-05

Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to kids experiencing more screen time than normal, but it's also come with another side effect: Increased snacking that could lead to an increase in obesity in children.

As children have adapted to learning at home, snacking has increased in many households while physical activity has dropped.

"It's extremely challenging for the parents and the kids just to keep us all on task," said Ashley Ackerman, a Norwood mother whose children have all been doing online, remote learning.

She said her kids are using devices for school and entertainment now, increasing the amount of time they're spending stationary. The increased time spent at home during the pandemic has also come with an increase in wanting snacks more frequently throughout the day.

"Lots of snacks," she said. "I think it's out of boredom; they always want it. They say, 'Hey, can we go get a snack? Can we take a drive and get a milkshake?'"

Motivation to play outside has dropped, too, she said, and her children who used to ride bikes, play on the family's trampoline and play basketball outside now spend less time engaging in physical activity since learning from home.

This lack of physical activity isn't unique to Ackerman's family and experts are concerned about all kids as the rate of weight gain among children continues to rise.

Shelley Kirk, a nutritionist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said a good place to start is for parents to think about the types of food they bring into their home.

"We like to have the entire family adopt healthier habits and make healthier choices," said Kirk. "And set up a healthier home food environment."

She said young people should stay away from sugary drinks, because they can actually cause an increase in hunger, making children want to eat and snack more often throughout the day.

For parents noticing a change in their children's habits and behaviors, Dr. Ashley Solomon, a clinical psychologist at the Galia Collaborative, said parents shouldn't be overly anxious.

"If we can really have a conversation about this, it's much better to focus on asking kids how they are feeling about things, how they are dealing with these new stresses and changes that they may not particularly like or care for and really providing them with some support or other coping skills other than turning to food," said Solomon.

She stressed that it's also important to keep in mind that positive body image is the most important as children learn how to develop a healthy relationship with their own bodies.

In that same vein, parents who notice negative changes in how their child is dealing with food, like under-eating or binge eating, should consider seeking help, Solomon said.

"I think it’s extremely important that we model a healthy relationship with our bodies," Solomon said. "So what we know from lots of experience and research is that feeding kids a bunch of information about their bodies isn’t all that effective. But if we can actually model having a healthy relationship, not criticizing our bodies and celebrating the things that our bodies can do knowing that our relationship with food is going to change over time."

For more healthy lunch or snack ideas, Cincinnati Children's Hospital has a list here.