In the last year, lifestyle changes sparked by society’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to more time at home, more time in front of a screen and a propensity for more frequent snacking.
“We call it the COVID diet,” says Dr. Daniel Cannon, pediatrician with Red Rock Pediatrics in St. George. “We’ve seen a real uptick in weight gain in a lot of kids.”
Although the problem may have increased due to factors related to COVID-19-era lifestyles, it’s definitely not the first-time medical professionals have seen this problem.
“Childhood obesity is basically an epidemic,” Dr. Cannon says.
The problem stems from an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle in children and adolescents; behaviors sometimes learned from generations of family obesity. Other times the cause may be a lack of education on the topic of health, poverty, home environment, accessibility of healthcare and healthy nutrition, and more.
“We call these ‘social determinants of health,’” Dr. Cannon says, adding that these determinants and others are screened for and discussed at each well visit in order to identify concerning trends before they become a problem.
“We try to be as objective and straight forward as possible, talking about what is healthy and what is not,” Dr. Cannon says.
Even so, discussing issues such as obesity with impressionable minds can be complicated. Dr. Cannon says he and his colleagues are careful to emphasize healthy behaviors, rather than focusing on reaching a number on the scale.
“I try to focus on simple goals that are very specific,” Dr. Cannon says. “For example, a lot of kids struggle with too much sugar in their diet — either eating or drinking it. We talk about replacing some of those sugary drinks with water and increasing water consumption for a specific amount of time.”
When it comes to increasing activity in children and young adults, Dr. Cannon says it is best to find something the child is interested in and build activity around that.
“It doesn’t really matter what they do as long as they’re doing something,” he said. “If they like walking their dog, we set a goal to walk the dog three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.”
One way to stay on top of these areas of a child’s health is to follow up with regular physician well checks. Even if you’ve missed the last few well visits with your child, Dr. Cannon says, it’s not too late to get back on track.
“There are a lot of things we find during regular wellness screenings and we have resources we can plug families into if necessary,” said Dr. Cannon.
This Live Well column represents collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of our not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and The Sanpete Messenger.