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The pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop. As a result, we’re all pretty much off our game and have distracted ourselves with whatever may be in front of us. And for a lot of us, that may be mindless eating. 

Unfortunately, that goes for kids as well.

A new study from Pediatric Obesity found U.S. children surpassed expected weight gain during the pandemic. The researchers report that unhealthy dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle adversely impacted children throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The main culprit is junk food. 

“Concerns about children’s health behaviors during the pandemic have been reflected through commentaries forecasting the immediate and distal effects of COVID-19 on children’s activity, sleep, dietary intake, and screen time,” the study states. “Initial cross-sectional and longitudinal studies indicate children are less active, consume more snacks, and engage in more screen time compared to retrospective recall of pre-pandemic behaviors or self-reported behaviors.”

Participants were examined for six weeks during the spring and summer from 2018 to 2020 through self-reported food, sleep, screen time journals, and exercise data obtained through Fitbit Charge-2 fitness trackers. Researchers for Pediatric Obesity found that participants experienced “accelerated weight gain during the summer months,” and that trend carried over through the pandemic while kids stayed home for virtual learning.

A larger August 2021 Cosmos Study analyzed more than 5.3 million pediatric patient records and found that one in three children (33.8%) in the U.S. have surpassed their expected weight gain during the coronavirus pandemic. The findings were published in Epic Health Research Network

According to research from JAMA Network– an open-access journal published by the American Medical Association, junk food was already a massive problem for children between the ages of 2 and 19. The Cosmos Study found that ultra-processed food consumption increased from 61.4% to 67% among American youth. The spike was observed in 33,795 study participants from 1999 to 2018. 

While these statistics are discouraging, it’s never too late to replace bad habits with good ones. The adults in children’s lives can be a source of encouragement and empowerment. With a little redirecting, kids can and will learn what’s appropriate and healthy and what’s not. 

It’s always a good time to start making changes. Children are sponges, and they will soak up all the love, encouragement, and support you can give them. If you know a child struggling in this area, you can help them by modeling making healthy food choices for yourself. Maybe get in the kitchen with them and make some healthy snacks for the week. Or, if you’re really ambitious, thumb through a cookbook together and pick out some yummy-looking healthy recipes. 

We don’t have to let our kids become a statistic. They can take control of their habits early on. They can make wise choices. Don’t let the pandemic steal one more thing.