Over the past five decades, childhood overweight and obesity has transitioned from public health concern to public health crisis. In 1971, 5.2% of U.S. children ages 2 to 19 were experiencing obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number that increased to 19.3% by 2018.
Further complicating this health crisis is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during which many U.S. children were unable to attend school in person, participate in their usual activities, or even play with friends. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 191,000 children during the same time periods in 2019 and 2020, and found that 39.4% of the children were experiencing overweight or obesity in 2020 compared with 38.9% in 2019.
“There are so many factors that have converged over the last 10, 20 years,” explains Fredric Pieracci, MD, MPH, professor of GI, trauma and endocrine surgery and director of the Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center. “We’ve become more sedentary as a society, and not only are we sedentary, but we’re on our devices a lot more and there’s a quick fix of dopamine and other chemicals that are released when we have screen time. That just encourages us – adults and children – to spend even more time on our devices.”
“Then, throw in the COVID pandemic with limited travel, limited gatherings, limited getting out of the house, on top of pre-existing socio-economic factors and health disparities, and it’s all contributing to a worsening epidemic of obesity,” he says.
To address the epidemic of obesity among children, Pieracci and the bariatric team at Denver Health Bariatric Surgery Center are applying for accreditation to perform adolescent bariatric surgery for children age 15 and older as part of the center’s overall reaccreditation process in June 2022.
With September being National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Pieracci recently answered some of the most common questions he’s asked about childhood obesity and the benefits of adolescent bariatric surgery.