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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 10-month long school closures and the coronavirus pandemic are expected to have a big impact on childhood obesity rates.

Why it matters: About one in five children are obese in the U.S. — an all-time high — with worsening obesity rates across income and racial and ethnic groups, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show.

Children tend to gain weight in the summer when schools are out, studies show, and a letter in medical journal Obesity already estimated an increased obesity rate in children of more than 4% if they remained out of school for five months.

What's happening: School meals are a critical source of calories and nutrition for children across the U.S. Without schools meals, gym classes or commuting, the sedentary virtual learning environment has given children an extended summer, The Counter reports.

  • "It's certainly very likely that these two crises, the childhood obesity epidemic and the COVID pandemic, are intersecting in many ways," said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer for children's health at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The big picture: During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide give some flexibility in allowing children and families to still obtain free meals through the National School Lunch Program and summer program, regardless of income or address.

  • But most schools and food insecurity programs were preoccupied with the logistics on how to safely deliver food and pick-up sites to families and fresh foods were sometimes not possible. The USDA allowed more processed and frozen foods in meals for convenience and to free up supply chains.
  • Due to staffing shortage of cooks and cafeteria workers, schools have been handing out more frozen and shelf-stable foods, according to a survey from the School Nutrition Association. This change has also made it easier for less deliveries.

The bottom line: Childhood obesity is a strong indicator for obesity into adulthood, which increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and puts them at greater risk for severe consequences from COVID-19.

  • "We have way more families facing way deeper challenges now and whether because of income or concerns around safety and health, it can be a lot harder for families these days to access affordable healthy foods right now," Bussel says.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Emhoff highlights food insecurity on first outing as second gentleman

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (right) speaks with volunteers of the nonprofit Dreaming out Loud at a farm in Northeast Washington on his first solo outing. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris' husband Doug Emhoff used his first official outing as second gentleman Thursday to learn about and raise awareness for food insecurity, Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The farm that Emhoff visited at Washington, D.C.'s Kelly Miller Middle School has shifted its focus during the COVID-19 pandemic to help get food to people who are vulnerable to hunger. "Food security is a racial justice issue," said Christopher Bradshaw, executive director of Dreaming Out Loud, the nonprofit that runs the farm.