Child obesity levels in the U.S. increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among children who were already obese from the outset, according to the findings of a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC’s Dr. Alyson Goodman, who contributed to the report, said the results signal a "profound increase in weight gain for kids" and are "substantial and alarming."
The study, released Thursday, is the largest yet to look at obesity trends during the pandemic. Among its chief findings was that roughly 22% of children and teens were obese last August – up from 19% a year earlier.
The study also found that children who were gaining a healthy average of 3.4 pounds a year, gained about 5.4 pounds during the pandemic.
For kids who were moderately obese, expected weight gain rose from 6.5 pounds a year before the pandemic to 12 pounds after the pandemic began. For severely obese kids, expected annual weight gain went from 8.8 pounds to 14.6 pounds, according to the study’s findings.
Obesity rates among kids ages 6 to 11 showed the most dramatic increase. Researchers said this age group may have been more affected when schools suspended in-person classes.
The pandemic appears to be worsening the nation's longstanding obesity epidemic. According to the CDC, obesity affects more than one in six children and puts their long-term health and quality of life at risk.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents spent more time than usual away from structured school settings, and families who were already disproportionally affected by obesity risk factors might have had additional disruptions in income, food, and other social determinants of health," the CDC said.
The CDC’s research was based on a review of the medical records of more than 432,000 kids and teens, ages of 2 to 19, who were weighed and measured at least twice before the pandemic and at least once early in the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.