Imelda Dacones, MD, and Lisa Denike, MD, discuss COVID-fueled childhood obesity trends

Northwest Permanente leaders Imelda Dacones, MD, and Lisa Denike, MD, were among health experts quoted in a recent USA Today feature about the potential for a dramatic increase in childhood obesity this year, as months of pandemic eating, closed schools, stalled sports, and public space restrictions extend indefinitely.

Children are “gaining not insignificant amounts of weight,” said Dr. Denike, regional chief of Pediatrics for Northwest Permanente, which serves Kaiser Permanente patients and members in Oregon and Southwest Washington. “We’ve seen kids gain 10 to 20 pounds in a year, who may have had a BMI as a preteen in the 50th or 75th percentile and are now in the 95th percentile. That’s a significant crossing of percentiles into obesity.”

Young people at risk of eating disorders “seek areas to control during stressful times,” Dr. Denike said, so restricting or overindulging in food is convenient.

Dr. Dacones, president and CEO of Northwest Permanente, said childhood obesity rates range from 11% in the highest income families to about 20% in low- to middle-income families. That contributes to higher obesity rates in Black and Latino populations, which include more people at lower income levels. Dr. Dacones added that in California, the number or people classified as food insecure increased from 1 in 9 before the pandemic to 1 in 6 in recent months.

As far more people feel distress during social isolation, “It’s driving kids as well as adults to do more unhealthy things,” Dr. Dacones said.

Note: To read the entire article, visit the USA Today website.