Childhood obesity has increased significantly in the United States during the past four decades. In 1980, about 5 percent of the country’s children between 2 and 19 were experiencing obesity, according to the C.D.C.; as of 2018, more than 19 percent were — and an additional 16 percent were considered overweight. Because children are far more likely to gain an unhealthful amount of weight while out of school over the summer, experts were worried last spring when in-person schooling was suspended indefinitely because of the pandemic.
Black and Latino children, as well as those from families with lower incomes, displayed sharper increases than children from other groups did. Such gains early in life make it more likely that children will have higher B.M.I.s when they grow up. (Obesity already affects more than 40 percent of American adults.) “This isn’t just baby fat that’s going to go away,” says Brian Jenssen, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician at Children’s. “That’s why I think this is so alarming.”