The coronavirus pandemic has impacted so many areas of our lives, from job loss and home schooling to dealing with death and loss. An unfortunate and very serious side effect of the pandemic’s impact is the effect it has had on our children’s health.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost 2.3 million children have tested positive for COVID. The health implications for these children are extensive and include respiratory illness, heart disease, and obesity. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified obesity as an underlying risk for contracting COVID, we now must be mindful of the fact that it is a consequence too. There are several reasons for why the pandemic has led to an increase in weight gain among children.
These reasons include: a reduction in physical exercise, the lack of access to healthy school meals, and changes in family eating habits that may include more delivery service and fewer grocery runs.
To help children get back to a healthy weight, the following actions can be taken. First, avoid dieting. Diets cause weight gain in the long term, so you do not want to set your child up for a lifetime battle with weight.
Next, avoid judgment. Pointing out a child’s weight gain can cause psychological damage that could lead to an eating disorder. Third, adopt a mindful approach to food and eating. To be mindful when you eat, eat without distractions. That means no TV, computer, or phones. When you eat, just eat. In fact, use mealtimes as family times. Research tells us that families who have dinner together create healthier bonds and better well-being.
Also, practice eating only when you are physically hungry and then stopping when you are comfortably full. If you eat when you are not physically hungry, you are emotionally eating. At that moment find something else to do. Ideally, address the emotion head-on. If you can’t do that, then choose something else to do instead of eat, such as reading a book, playing a game, or going for a walk.
And, finally, allow all foods. No more “good or bad” foods. Food is food and when eaten mindfully, it is eaten in the right amounts and will not lead to excess weight. The best way for these changes to happen is if the parents take the lead and model these actions. Children learn from their parents’ habits. So, be sure to do as you say and say as you do, and you and your children can come through this pandemic stronger and healthier.
By Dr. Sheila Forman
Dr.Forman is a clinical psychologist based in Santa Monica. For more information, call 310-828-8004 or go to www.DrSheilaForman.com.