Coronavirus Updates Public Health

Dr. Angela Fals: Sleep and proper nutrition may address childhood obesity epidemic

The nearly two-year-long global pandemic is weighing us down in more ways than one in the United States. According to a recently released national report on children’s health, one in six children (16.2%) nationwide is considered obese.

Florida ranks 22nd in the United States – near the bulging midsection – with 15.8 percent obesity among youth aged 10-17.

Dr. Angela Fals, medical director for AdventHealth for Children’s Pediatric Weight and Wellness Program, cites multiple factors in the rise in obesity and overweight among young people.

“There has been a combination of risk factors,” said Dr. Fals. “Economic stressors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, parents losing jobs, financial and food insecurity… and a change in schedules all play a part. Children who were physically going to school were now finding themselves learning from home, with increased sitting, snacking, and sedentary activity.”

Fals also suggested sleep and proper nutrition as factors that were upset by COVID-related school and work shutdowns.

“Closing schools brought decreased access to healthy meals for certain demographic groups,” she said. “Children with increased anxiety and depression found it much harder to get good quality sleep, which should be 9-10 hours per night.”

The study, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, revealed higher percentages of obesity among certain demographic groups, including blacks, Hispanics, and households with low incomes.

“Historically, childhood obesity has affected minority families and lower income families,” said Fals. “75 percent are represented by those demographics and the pandemic has increased obesity in those groups (black and Hispanic).”

Fals says it’s important for parents to care for their children now, so they won’t encounter serious health issues in the future.

“If we’re not able to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic effectively, the danger is that the children will continue to go in a direction that will lead them towards chronic diseases as they reach adulthood,” she said. “Those chronic diseases include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, like high blood pressure, and heart attacks, strokes, and liver disease. One of the first steps that parents can do is to reach out to their child’s primary care provider. It’s a good first step to talk about how to get back into the swing of things, how to get back on board with being healthier.”

Click here to listen to full interview with Dr. Fals on WMFE (90.7 FM).