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Children, Covid 19 and Weight Gain

Children, Covid-19 and Weight Gain

Hi, I’m Dr. Craig Primack from Scottsdale Weight Loss Center.

Today’s medical minute is about our children during the coronavirus pandemic, during COVID-19. And if they have gained weight and then what to do about it.

Have They Gained Weight?

So the first part is very simple. Sometimes it’s actually hard to know whether our children have gained weight during the pandemic. Many of our pediatrician’s visits have become virtual. And as we know, the scales aren’t done during a virtual visit. If you do find out that your child has gained weight, or you notice that they have gained significant weight, there are a few things we can do about it. The first question to ask them and yourself is, are they bothered by their weight? It is really hard to tell anybody whether it be our children, our spouse, our significant other, friends or family that they have a weight problem.

 “My Weight is Bothering Me”                                   I

t’s really much better if you start talking about weight in a general thing, and then someone says along the lines of, “My weight is bothering me and this is what it’s doing.” And then you can say, “Well, tell me more.” Or you can ask the question, “Is your weight bother you in any way?” And if the answer is no, it’s really hard to tell someone that they have to lose weight, or they have to do something about their weight. Even if we know that it’s causing a health problem like diabetes, like fatty liver disease, like sleep apnea.

In adults like heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and such. Because trust me most of the time, someone knows that their weight is affecting their health. And the thing that they’ve tried to do so far has not worked. Now, that is a little bit different in our kids.

Eating Pattern?

Many times, our kids are not aware that certain things that they’re doing, they’re not picking up on the patterns. Like eating carbohydrates at breakfast, lead to carbohydrates in mid-morning, lead to carbohydrates later and so forth. During the pandemic, many people have had increased access to comfort foods, especially being around the house more often. They have less access to healthful foods. Sometimes the family is shopping less in the grocery store, trying to get by with only shopping once every week or once every two weeks. So foods that are more shelf stable, unfortunately then for processed and less access to regular activity or exercise, especially not having friends that they’re going outside with and such as they’re not supposed to be outside close to people without a mask.

Support Your Children Emotionally and Physically

Our number one goal throughout all this, talking about our kids is to support our children emotionally and physically.  Yelling at our children, making them feel bad for the way that they’ve eaten or the way that they’re behaving does not help their weight.

Simply starting with the first question is, “Are you concerned about your weight? Is your weight uncomfortable for you?” Starts the process. And in my clinic, we do treat kids all the time with weight, easily down to the age of 12 and on special occasions down to ages between eight and 12. And the first question we typically ask is,

“Are you yourself concerned about your weight?”

And if they are not concerned about their weight, we talk with the parents that maybe now is not the best time to do something about it. The second piece is to look for other signs of mental health issues, such as depression and/or anxiety. With not knowing if people are going to get sick, with being much more isolated in our homes. A lot of our kids are suffering from increasing depression and/or anxiety that they may have never had before. Both of those issues can lead to increased eating.

When Do Kids Gain Weight?

In pediatrics, we look at, do kids tend to gain weight during the school year? So they’re bringing some kind of lunch or even maybe buying a lunch, which may not be super healthy at school. They come home after school and have some kind of snack, which is usually pre-prepared or quickly prepared. Or do they gain weight during the summer they have access to more activities outside, but they also have access to food, probably whenever? And the answer is they actually do not gain weight during the things during the school year. They gain weight during the summer with unrestricted activity because they also have access to unrestricted food. And we know when we have food that’s readily available does not need much preparation, that’s ultra processed, we do tend to eat more of it.

Parenting Style:   Don’t be the Food Police

The third thing that I’ll talk about is parenting style. The easiest way to describe it is, as parents, especially that we’re concerned about our children. We want to be the food police. We want to tell them, “Eat this and don’t eat that.” I will tell you the food police does not work. It has been studied, it has been many times. And we talk to our parents and easily when it’s the first visit in our clinic, we fire them from being the food police. We tell them, “Don’t say anything good. Actually don’t even say anything bad about the way your child is eating.”

But if they come to you asking, “Hey mom, should I eat this? Hey dad, should I eat that?” Then please tell them be very honest, the more questions they have the better. But to take yourself out of the food police.

Because we know our kids, if food becomes a thing that they are going to argue with you about, when things aren’t going right, and they say, “How do I want to get back at my parent?”This can be conscious or subconscious. “How am I going to get back to my parents for making me feel bad? For telling me to clean my room? For being a harsh parent?” They’re going to get back you for doing the thing they know you don’t want them to do, which is eat. I

t’s the same thing as when you tell someone, “Don’t smoke.” And back they say, “I’m going to smoke.” The better answer is to use what we call motivational interviewing. If it goes to smoke and say, “What do you think is the problem with smoking?” You can use the same thing in our kids. “What do you feel about eating so many carbohydrates? How do you feel about eating dessert after every meal? What do you think that does to us?” And have these potentially negative things come from them.


So to summarize everything, I’ve just talked about. Number one, we want to support our kids emotionally and physically. We know the pandemic has been bad for their weight. And being very gentle with the way that we talk to them about their weight is an important piece.

We want to make sure that we are not the food police. Saying something negative every time we sit down at the table does not help our children. Being positive can help them, but sometimes making food not the fight is even better.

And at the end of the day, if they are concerned about their weight and you are concerned about your weight, talk to your pediatrician. They can do some very simple blood work to make sure that there is not any diabetes or pre-diabetes. Make sure their cholesterol is good. Is their blood pressure is good? Make sure they don’t have sleep apnea depending how much overweight they are.

If the few things that you try with your pediatrician is working. Keep doing them.

If not seek out someone was board certified in obesity medicine who also treats children under the age of 18, which is not everybody. Some of us are trained both in internal medicine and pediatrics or family practice, first. And then our weight loss skills easily adapt to those much younger than 18.

Thanks for being with me today. I’ll talk to you next week. Bye-bye.



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