Children's Health in the Post-Pandemic Era - An Interview with Dr. Cobb on National Child Health Day
Updated: Oct 2
360Girls&Women® Thank you for joining us today in recognition of National Child Health Day to talk about children’s health in the post-pandemic period.
Dr. Cobb: It’s my pleasure to be here.
360Girls&Women®: What are some things parents and caregivers should know about child health these days?
Dr. Cobb: Well, let’s start off with some good news. According to the 2021 National Survey of Children’s Health, the vast majority of children in the US are considered to be in excellent or very good health, that’s about 90%.
360Girls&Women® Oh that’s great news, right?
Dr. Cobb: While it sounds like good news, we should be cautious, since this statistic comes from survey data. That being said, there are some things that parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals should be aware of.
The first concern is obesity rates among children are on the rise.
Childhood obesity rates are climbing in the US, and have tripled over the last 30 years. One out of three children is overweight or obese, and one in six children in the US is obese.
What’s even more alarming is that the rate of body mass index increase nearly doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to a pre-pandemic period.
Children with obesity are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, muscle and joint problems, and fatty liver disease. I don’t know that we have fully considered the long term consequences of our children developing these chronic illnesses at an earlier age. We are seeing serious conditions like heart attack and stroke in younger and younger populations.
Obesity is actually considered a chronic disease, which means that the body is in a constant state of inflammation.
Obesity weakens the immune system, and in turn weakens the ability to fight off infections like colds, flus, and COVID viruses. This is of particular concern as more children are back to in-person classes and will be exposed to more germs.
The good news is that overweight and obesity are completely preventable and treatable. We have the power in our own hands to prevent and reverse overweight and obesity. Now, will it be easy? No! But with diligence it is possible. And the changes you make for your children will benefit the whole family.
360Girls&Women® So what can families do to decrease the odds of obesity or get back down to a healthy weight?
In the majority of cases, obesity is a behavioral condition, so for most people the solution is to change our behaviors. Meaning, we have to change what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
First, we have to get children moving again. Many children are using TV, videos, tablets, and other devices too many hours each day. These are hours that should instead be used to get outdoors and get moving. Movement of any kind is better than sedentary activities, so this doesn’t mean we have to take our children to the gym. Going for a family walk or bike ride before or after dinner, getting involved in extracurriculars like swimming or team sports are great ways to get active. The earlier these behaviors are encouraged, the better the results will be. As parents, it is also important to model these behaviors with our children by participating with them when possible.
The second big area where change can be made is with the food we’re eating. More and more we are grabbing food on the go, foregoing sit down family meals, and instead eating fast food. The problem with fast food and restaurant food in general, is that it’s usually highly processed, refined, and laden with salt, sugar, and oil to keep you coming back for more. It’s also typically more costly in the long run when you consider the medical bills that will need to be paid as a result of being chronically ill. We owe it to ourselves to make healthy eating a focus, not an afterthought. It does take planning and preparation to eat healthy, but it can be done. One way to get organized around healthy meals is to set aside some time at the beginning of each week to meal prep. This way, you have a plan in place before the busy-ness of the week begins. Prep a few staples like rice, a pot of beans, and get vegetables washed and chopped and ready to cook during the week. Pick up healthy no-prep items like whole fruits, no-sugar added granolas, low salt popcorn, unsalted nuts, pre-packaged hummus and guacamole.
And if you’re really motivated, you can go a few steps further by 1) eating a heavier breakfast and lighter dinner, 2) eating more raw fruits and vegetables, and 3) putting an end to eating close to bedtime and late at night. As we slow down for the day in the evening and nighttime hours, our digestion slows down as well.
360Girls&Women®: These sound like helpful tips for getting back on track with healthy eating. But I can imagine there may be barriers to change. What can parents and caregivers do?
Dr. Cobb: The most important thing to do is to get your children involved in the process. Sit down with them and talk to them about the reasons you are concerned about their health. Explain to them that while you may have made some mistakes in food choices in the past, you would like to steer the family to better choices and better health. Ask them what their favorite fruits and vegetables are and incorporate them into more meals. Make it an adventure by selecting and trying new recipes together. Get them involved in making more healthy choices and in food preparation to get them onboard with the changes.
360Girls&Women® What else should parents and caregivers know in this post-pandemic era?
Dr. Cobb: The other big concern affecting many children in the US is mental illness.
A recently published article from JAMA Pediatrics found that anxiety and depression among children ages 3-17 have increased over the last five years. While you may think this was all due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in anxiety and depression among children predated the pandemic. As parents and caregivers, we should also be aware that behavioral problems are often warning signs of deeper mental health issues in children.
360Girls&Women® So what can we do to support our children’s mental health?
Dr. Cobb: There are things that can be done at home to support good mental health in children. Similar to treating obesity, we can engage our kids in regular physical activity. Physical activities like team sports, hiking, skating, and swimming are good not only for our physical health but for our mental health as well. When we exercise, we release endorphins, which some people call happy hormones. Exercise also decreases stress and helps us blow off steam. Team sports also help children find a sense of belonging. Choosing a healthy eating pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like walnuts and avocados supports brain health, too.
It’s really important that children spend time outside in fresh air and sunshine each day. Remember those happy hormones I mentioned called endorphins? Research shows that sunlight helps our bodies make endorphins. Sunshine is also helpful in healthy immune system function. A great way to combine some of these ideas is to do physical activities outside.
Additionally, we have to keep children’s environments open and loving. Many of us are so glued to our devices that even if we are sitting at the same table, there isn’t much conversation.
Reaffirm your love for your children daily, not just in words, but also by spending quality time with them. These are the moments in which you can give your child the opportunity to express herself and be heard. Tie your children’s hearts to yours, so that when something is bothering them, they’ll come to you as a trusted confidante. Families need to surround themselves with healthy support systems, like faith-based institutions, that can provide beneficial social connections with others.
But if there is a particular concern about your child’s mental health, always consult a trusted healthcare provider. S/he can provide more resources, arrange for testing to be done, and recommend counselors who specialize in treating children with mental illness. The key is to recognize symptoms early and get help before the situation gets out of control.
360Girls&Women® Thank you again, Dr. Cobb, for these tips.
Dr. Cobb is a board certified physician trained in both conventional and lifestyle (natural) medicine. She runs programs on diabetes reversal, and teaches children about bible-based healthy living. For more information she can be reached at AskDrCobb@gmail.com
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-Sue-Ellen Anderson Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, CPT Nationally recognized nutrition and food expert and
leading global expert in Gestational Diabetes. "What makes us different?" 360 represents completion. At 360 G+W we provide personalized insights to help girls and women dramatically improve their wellbeing. Our mission is to provide evidence-based information and services to help maximize a woman's complete health through the complete life-cycle - preventing, managing, and reversing certain reproductive and chronic illnesses- using nutrition as the foundation along with other innovative holistic practices. Read more.
HRSA Maternal and Child Health National Survey of Children’s Health October 2021
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health accessed Aug 30, 2023.
www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/children Accessed Aug 30, 2023
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Lebrun-Harris, Lydia et al. Five-year Trends in US Children’s Health and Well-being, 2016-2020. JAMA Pediatric. 2022; 176 (7):e2200056.
Mead MN. Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Apr;116(4):A160-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.116-a160. Erratum in: Environ Health Perspect. 2008 May;116(5):A197. PMID: 18414615; PMCID: PMC2290997.