The effect of the pandemic on teen eating| American news

For a long time, COVID-19 and the information about how it spread, how it affected people, and how to treat it seemed to evolve on a daily basis. Now, more than a year in and the vaccination programs in full swing, I can look at other impacts the pandemic has had. The same goes for the health and nutrition of my own patients.

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Routines quickly changed as parents and children spent all their time at home. The initial quality family bond soon turned into exciting kids and teens with lots of time on their hands. This led to two trends I’ve personally seen during the pandemic: overeating and disordered eating. Both widespread and dangerous to the physical and mental health of a developing child or teen.

Weight gain in children and teens

Lack of structure and more time at home have led many of my patients to consume more than before. During personal school days, children do not have access to food whenever they want. Now they can enjoy a snack at home between classes. If parents are also busy working from home, or if children have new caretakers, such as grandparents, this opens the door to new and different access to food.

In addition, parents are stressed. There have been a million reasons to be stressed in the past year, and I don’t need to list them for you, but it could have resulted in easier meals or a lack of structure for yourself and your family. Families are also facing financial problems they may never have had before, and this is changing access to food in more ways than one. No one can be blamed for this, but regardless of the reason, weight gain in children and teens is a worrying trend that I have seen over the past 6 to 12 months.

What sometimes follows this weight gain is the desire to lose weight. While an adult with a weight loss goal may be appropriate, this is not always the case for adolescents. Some teens came to me with goals to change their eating habits in general and get back into the routine. This is when we then work on small lifestyle goals, not diets.

But there is a subgroup of adolescents whose mindsets are shifting and they are starting to go down a path of disordered eating. A teenage girl or boy who used to be perfectly happy with their body may now experience something that sparks a desire to make changes.

Increase in eating disorders

Extra anxiety, depression, lack of structure, lack of access to friends, loss of great life moments can all fuel these feelings as well. COVID-19 is stressful for all ages. I can’t say that enough. And unfortunately, we’re seeing an increase in eating disorders in the past year: anorexia and binge eating disorder, as well as a non-clinical term “orthorexia.” Orthorexia is defined as an obsession with good or “healthy” food. Adolescents can be overly fixated on the nutritional value of food, restricting intake to only foods they consider “healthy” to the point where this can have both physical and psychological health consequences.

This would be a term I could use for a lot of the teen food focus I’ve seen through the pandemic. A child or teenager who used to eat something suddenly wants to stop eating sugar (replacement in dairy products, grains, carbohydrates, fruit, fat, etc.) because it is not ‘healthy’ for them. I’ve been working with this population for many years now, and anecdotally, this is the fastest increase I’ve seen in the last year. And it all starts with “at the beginning of quarantine I…”

Many patients now come in with significant weight loss, placing them in the malnutrition category as eating habits have changed over the past year. What can start slowly and seemingly insignificant (becoming a vegetarian or not wanting to snack as often) can quickly turn into completely disordered eating patterns.

What parents can do

So what can parents do? Be aware and talk to your kids. If you notice changes in eating patterns, on both ends of the spectrum, pay attention. If possible, resume family mealtimes, which have been shown to have a positive effect on eating habits, body image, and weight status in both children and teens. Do your best to keep the whole family on track with food. The virtual madness is real, but don’t let the meals suffer.

Without regular meals, some people snack excessively, while others may get away with not eating without anyone noticing. Parents can make healthy food choices readily available, even quick and easy options can work. And please serve similar food to the whole family. Allowing one child to have something and restricting another child can create a harmful food mindset later on. Nutritious foods and fun foods can be suitable for all family members.

If parents are concerned, don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s pediatrician or find a registered dietitian. Eating is complex, even for adults in the least stressful of times! Don’t expect your teen to handle it all alone.

The effect of the pandemic on teen eating| American news

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