Experts say focus on behaviour -- not a scale -- as new study warns of pandemic youth weight gain
A new U.S. study says children have gained a significant amount of weight since the start of the pandemic, but experts say families should focus on habits and not the bathroom scale.
"I would always want to bring it back to the behaviours rather than weight status itself," says Sara Kirk, a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University's School of Health and Human Performance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 22 per cent of children and teens are obese, compared to 19 per cent a year ago.
"Weight is not a behaviour," says Kirk. "The behaviours we can focus on, healthy living and active living are things we all need to be adopting. But we also need to recognize there are many things, social-economic status, and the environment we live in that are actually making it hard to be healthy."
Kirk says the study's primary focus on body mass index has limitations because BMI isn't always the best measure of somebody's fitness.
Rates of childhood obesity were rising prior to COVID-19.
"We have a health-disrupting environment," says Kirk. "Our environments currently are structured to actually make us eat more and move less."
When schools went virtual, many children lost physical education classes and their opportunity to get a healthy meal through a cafeteria or in-school breakfast program.
Kirk says a national school food program is needed, with advocates saying it would fill a patchwork of school lunch initiatives already in place around the country.
"The value and benefits of healthy school food is something we really need to consider," she says.
Canada's recently re-elected Liberal minority government is promising $1 billion over five years to create a "national school nutritious meal program."
The YMCA of Greater Saint John says more families have been contacting the facility for information about health programs offered.
"We're just trying to create programs where they could come consistently, and obviously in a safe way and also so that their families could participate together, that's one of our goals," says Shilo Boucher, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Saint John. "We're actually introducing some new things like family yoga, nutrition and cooking classes,"
"When you include the whole family you're more apt to be active together more often."