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Listen in: AdventHealth's Dr. Angela Fals talks rising rates of childhood obesity in Florida during the pandemic

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

According to a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, about 16 percent of Florida kids between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight. 

WMFE spoke with AdventHealth pediatrician Dr. Angela Fals about how the pandemic contributed to this jump in obesity and what families can do to work healthy eating and movement into their daily routine. 

Read the full interview below. 

Dr. Fals: It's been a combination of different risk factors that have really been increased with the pandemic. Over the last year and a half, there have been economic stressors. So we've seen parents, of course, losing jobs, a lot of financial insecurity, which has led to food insecurity as well.

There has been a change in schedules and the children who were physically going to school, all of a sudden, that came to a screeching halt, and were finding themselves learning remotely at home, which increased their level of sedentary activity or the time that is spent not in movement, but rather sitting. And we know that that is, in and of itself is a health crisis.

And also, decreasing the healthy meals and the access to meals that they had at school were gone. And sleep dysregulation. So the issues with sleep were becoming greater in children with increasing anxiety, and depression, and it's much more difficult to really get good quality sleep that your body needs. In addition to that, decreased physical activity.

Danielle: What sort of solutions would you recommend, because the pandemic's not over yet, for these, you know, rising rates of obesity in kids in this area?

Dr. Fals: You're right, it's it's not done yet. And little by little transitioning, but things that can be solutions, and maybe how parents and caregivers can help to improve the situation for their children is we do see number one, that there is an increase again, in movement. And so even if it is, for example, walking to the bus again, or walking home from school again, and being able to walk up and down stairs, or from class to class, so getting back into the school in person is a win already.

The other thing is actually getting back to movement, after school and on weekends. Get back into a good schedule, a good study schedule combined with a good activity schedule, and then a good sleeping schedule.

Danielle: What is the long-term consequence if we don't fix this problem now when we think about one in six children right now, who are obese?

Dr. Fals: 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. Those chronic diseases include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, like high blood pressure, and heart attacks, strokes, and also, 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.

It can even be as simple as talking about some of the first goals that can be made for healthier eating, or for movement. And then the second thing would be is that if your community has a multidisciplinary team in childhood obesity specialists like dieticians, psychologists, obesity medicine specialists and exercise specialists, that would be a great advantage to be able to refer into one of these programs.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.