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Topic: Pandemic-related Weight Gain in Children

Question: I've noticed that my child has gained some weight since the start of the pandemic. Is there something that I should be doing to help address my child's weight gain?

Carrie Brower-Breitwieser, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D
Pediatric Psychologist
Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program, Director
Sanford Health

Expert's Response

My clinic has been seeing quite a bit of weight gain in children since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, we are seeing at least a 5 pound weight gain. It’s very important to be aware that this is an ongoing issue for our children.

The following is information and recommendations for addressing your child’s weight gain:

  • The food you buy matters. We are spending more time at home and, as a result, have more access to food around the clock. This means that we should carefully consider the quality and quantity of the food we buy and have readily available in our home. Buying lots of junk food can be problematic, as it might encourage snacking between meals or overconsumption, which may then lead to weight gain. Try replacing unhealthy food items, such as chips and cookies, with healthier alternatives, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Balance cooking as a family with other activities. I’ve worked with many families that say they are cooking more at home during the pandemic. This is absolutely great for the family’s emotional health, as it gives everyone in the family the opportunity to connect. However, it also means that there is possibly more food available (e.g., snacks, cookies, pies) as a result of all the cooking/baking. Be mindful of how much you are cooking as a family, and attempt to balance this activity with other active options, such as going for a bike ride outside. This will help keep your family active and promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Be aware of stress-induced eating. The pandemic has been a stressful time for all of us, including our children. Some kids, when under high stress, may turn to food to help take away their anxiety. This “emotional eating” may also be contributing to the weight gain we are seeing in our children. Help your child pay attention to the messages that their body is sending them. If they are hungry, tell them that eating is meant to give their body the fuel it needs to run, jump, and play. Encourage active and fun activities, rather than eating, to manage stress.