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Child obesity surged in Greater Cincinnati during pandemic, hospital says

This Tuesday, April 3, 2018 file photo shows a closeup of a beam scale in New York. A study by...
This Tuesday, April 3, 2018 file photo shows a closeup of a beam scale in New York. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, ties the COVID-19 pandemic to an “alarming” increase in obesity in U.S. children and teenagers.(Patrick Sison | AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 9:11 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2021 at 9:13 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Child obesity surged in Greater Cincinnati during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center announced Tuesday.

A hospital analysis of its patients’ electronic medical records showed a “dramatic increase” in the body mass index (BMI) in children compared to the rate of BMI change before the pandemic, the hospital said in a prepared statement.

BMI is a measure that uses a child’s height and weight to track changes. Researchers looked at BMI changes in children between the ages of 2 and 19 over a 10-year period.

In all, 2,459,554 encounters were analyzed with 712,945 visits in years 2018-21.

The prevalence of overweight/obesity was relatively stable with a gradual rise from 35% to 36.4% from 2011 to 2020, according to Children’s.

The year of the COVID shutdown, however, showed an increase in overweight/obesity to 39.7%, an 8.3% increase.

The greatest BMI percentage increase was in children with severe obesity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presented a great challenge to children and their families with lockdowns, school closures, decreased exercise opportunities, stress, and potential overeating with home confinement,” Dr. Robert Siegel with the Center for Better Health and Nutrition at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute said.

“This data suggests that greater efforts are now needed to reverse the increase in weight status as obesity is a risk factor for poor outcome with COVID disease.”

Researchers recently presented their findings at The Obesity Society’s annual event ObesityWeek, which offers the largest and most comprehensive scientific conference on obesity in the world. A larger study with a more detailed breakdown of BMI by specific ages is pending.

“At this stage in the pandemic, I believe the best way to get our children back on track is through vaccination, if eligible, and continuing to follow proven safety precautions,” Siegel said. “Masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, are all part of an overall strategy so we can get back to a normal environment where they can thrive.”

This development comes nearly two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study - the largest yet to look at obesity trends during the pandemic - that found an “alarming” increase in obesity in U.S. children and teenagers during the pandemic.

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