New guidance from AAP offers recommendations to pediatricians to counsel families
The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the epidemic of childhood obesity because of the increased risk of children and adolescents with obesity for severe COVID-19 disease. It has also increased the number of children in the U.S. who do not have enough food to eat, while at the same time causing a spike in the amount of unhealthy food consumed and a rapid decline in physical exercise. The poor nutrition and decreased physical activity could have long-term implications for the health of children in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In two new sets of interim guidance released today, the AAP offers recommendations to pediatricians to help children and their families who are struggling to maintain healthy lifestyles during the pandemic.
“Not all children can maintain healthy nutrition and physical activity during the pandemic,” said Dr. Sandra Hassink, MD, FAAP, medical director for the Institute of Healthy Childhood Weight.
“Pediatricians need to assess for food insecurity, access to healthy foods, opportunities for safe physical activity and are encouraged to connect families with community resources to help with financial, housing or food needs and plan together to reduce family stress and find ways to improve children’s health.”
The AAP offers new recommendations to pediatricians in two documents:
Both sets of guidance -- as is the case with all guidance released by AAP during the pandemic -- are described as “interim” because they will be reviewed and updated as needed based on the latest research into COVID-19.
The AAP notes that many of the risk factors that result in weight gain during the summer are present in this pandemic. These include disrupted family routines, sleep dysregulation, reduced physical activity, increased screen time, increased access to unhealthy snacks, and less consistent access to appropriately portioned meals through school breakfast and lunch.
When evaluating children’s access to nutrition and physical activity, pediatricians should also screen for obesity onset or worsening, the AAP recommends. Pediatricians can help counsel families on strategies tailored to the child’s developmental stage that build on family strengths.
Physicians can also advocate for policy, systems and environmental changes to address health inequities and advance healthy eating and active living.
“Obesity is a chronic disease that puts children’s current and long-term health at risk and is likely to worsen during the course of the pandemic,” Dr. Hassink said. “It is important for pediatricians to continue to assess all patients for onset of obesity during the pandemic and to maintain treatment of children and adolescents who already have obesity. We are especially concerned about children and adolescents who already are more at risk based on economic, social and geographic disadvantages.”
“In addition, children and adolescents with overweight or obesity may face increased stigma. Pediatricians need to have a nonjudgmental approach with their patients and families and continue to advocate for reduction of weight bias.”
Information for parents is available at HealthyChildren.org. The articles are:
For an interview, contact AAP Public Affairs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds