Obesity is a global public health concern. Given the widespread disruption caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, it is important to evaluate its impact on children with chronic health conditions. This study examines the health of paediatric patients with obesity enrolled in a tertiary hospital weight management program, before and 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a retrospective chart review of patients aged 2 to 17 years enrolled in a paediatric weight management clinic. Mental health outcomes (i.e., new referrals to psychologist, social work, eating disorder program, incidence of dysregulated eating, suicidal ideation, and/or self-harm) and physical health (anthropometric measures) were compared before and 1 year into the pandemic.
Among the 334 children seen in either period, there was an increase in referrals to psychologist (12.4% versus 26.5%; P=0.002) and the composite mental health outcome (17.2% versus 30.2%; P=0.005) during the pandemic compared with pre-pandemic. In a subset of children (n=30) with anthropometric measures in both periods, there was a lower rate of decline in BMIz score (–1.5 [2.00] versus –0.3 [0.73]/year; P=0.002) and an increase in adiposity (–0.8 [4.64] versus 2.7 [5.54]%/year; P=0.043) during the pandemic.
The pandemic has impacted the mental and physical health of children with obesity engaged in a weight management clinic. While our study provides evidence of a negative impact on mental health outcomes and less improvement in anthropometric measures, future research when patients return to in-person care will enable further examination of our findings with additional objective measures.