COVID-19 has been an unpredictable virus, with a wide range of symptoms and outcomes. Mitigating it has caused social, educational and financial changes around the world. Small wonder then that people are feeling unsettled and anxious.

“During the pandemic there’s been a big increase in depression and anxiety, not just with adults but with kids too,” said Dr. Robin Spangler, UPMC Primary Care – Lewisburg. “Kids’ activities have been disrupted. Their ability to get together with friends has been disrupted.”

Lacking an adult’s perspective on the short-term nature of these changes, children can feel stress that contributes to overeating.

“Talk to kids about how this is a temporary situation, and the likelihood of them or their loved ones being affected is small, especially if they take precautions,” Spangler said.

Dr. Jennifer Hosterman, medical director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at Geisinger, noted that one of her young patients recently went back to five-day, in-person school after having been entirely virtual for the majority of the pandemic.

“She mentioned that she was now getting 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day. Nothing else had changed other than the fact that she was back in school and walking back and forth to class, up and down steps, back and forth to the bus stop,” Hosterman said. “Her mood was a lot better. She was happy to be back with friends and her teachers again.”

Physical activity, as well as combating obesity, is a good stress reliever – one more reason to encourage fun ways of getting up and moving.

“And if the anxiety seems to be to the extreme, get the kids professional help,” Spangler said.

“Neither providers nor patients should feel uncomfortable about broaching these topics and options, because often the silence and discomfort breed compliance with poor eating and exercise habits that lay the foundation for unhealthy lifestyles, which lead to disease,” saidMatthew Wolcott, MD, primary care physician at Family Medicine of Evangelical – Middleburg and Mifflinburg. “BREAK THE CHAIN! If you have no idea how much fat is in an avocado or whether it’s a healthy fat or unhealthy fat, and you have difficulty discerning what may be fake or valid information online or cannot research food online then see if you can meet up with a nutritionist.”

Guiding a child to a healthier lifestyle is challenging, but professionals are happy to help.

“There are weight management specialists that help with these difficult choices as well,” Wolcott said. “If a child is not motivated or showing signs of depression, there are also therapists that are trained to help recognize and treat these conditions.”

Hosterman agreed, saying parents should try to be good role models but should “lean on their resources” when they need help. Teachers, coaches, physical education teachers, dieticians and pediatricians all stand ready to help families.

“So if any families out there feel like they’re struggling, I really encourage them to reach out,” she said. “We’re here to help. Our goal is to really ensure the pandemic has as little impact as it can possibly have on kids and to help see them through this and promote their overall wellness.”

Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at CindyOHerman@gmail.com

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