KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new study, released by the CDC this week, shows childhood obesity rates have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers looked at a sample of more than 432,000 kids between the ages of 2 and 19. They found that children not being in a structured school setting during the pandemic lead to increased stress, irregular meal times, increased sleep and less physical activity. That added up to weight gain for most kids, and especially for those already overweight.

Janet Buck, a clinical dietitian at Children’s Hospital says that before the pandemic, kids at a healthy weight were gaining an average of 3.4 pounds a year. During that pandemic that rose to 5 pounds. For those moderately obese, it went from 6.5 pounds a year to 12 during the pandemic. For severely obese kids, the expected annual weight gain went from 8.8 pounds to 14.6 pounds.

Buck shares her top three tips for helping parents and caregivers to reverse the negative side effects of the pandemic and get their child’s weight under control.

  • Maintain regular mealtimes with healthy choices (She suggusts staring slow and making healthy swaps of favorites foods/snacks with those with less sugar and fat, and to cut down on excessive snacking)
  • Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours a day
  • Increase physical activity to at least 1 hour a day. Bucks says that this can be in the form of play or a fun family activity such as a walk and talk.

Buck adds that in general children do better with change when the whole family works together to eat healthier foods and increase physical activity. If your child needs help from an expert, she suggests are programs like the Healthy Ways Clinic at Children’s Hospital and going to your child’s pediatrician to find the program that’s right for your family.