Richard Swerdlow: Putting on Pandemic Pounds

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

The inactivity of Zoom classrooms has led to an alarming spike in school children’s weight. Richard Swerdlow says it's time to get moving again.

With coronavirus reducing classrooms to computer screens, students have been learning from home for a year. There's been a lot of talk about kids falling behind in math and reading, and as an elementary school teacher, I am concerned about what students have been losing with remote learning. But I'm also concerned about what they've been gaining: Extra pounds.

In fact, the average kid has put on seven additional pounds during the pandemic.

With in-person school canceled, physical education classes and youth sports programs are canceled, too. But it's not only organized sports just going to school gets kids moving. Remember walking or biking to school and those steep staircases in school buildings?

At home, without a school schedule and a school lunch, some students are sleeping in, snacking all day and grabbing a soda and a bag of chips for lunch. It may be every middle school kid's dream school day, but this perfect storm of sedentary behavior and junk food is resulting in so much unhealthy weight gain for kids that one pediatrician called the lock down rise in childhood obesity an “epidemic during a pandemic.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in five children and adolescents are now affected by obesity.


Childhood obesity is serious, with a potential to cause lifelong health problems. Diabetes, heart disease and even cancers have been linked to being overweight as a kid. Childhood obesity can reduce an individual's life span by five years.

Teachers are trying to help, motivating students to stick to Zoom class schedules. I've seen teachers lead follow-along P.E. on computer screens, with students dancing, jumping rope, tossing balloons and doing yoga. Some high school students are keeping fitness logs, listing daily physical activity. And school districts are providing nutritious lunches for pick-up at school buildings.

It's ironic that in keeping students healthy and safe from the virus, remote schooling has exposed them to a different health risk weight gain. Rising childhood obesity is just one more reason that all of us, students, parents and teachers are eager for schools to safely reopen. For the health of all of us.

With a Perspective. I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.