COVID-19 Leads to Accelerated Increases in Children's BMI z-Score Gain: An Interrupted Time-Series Study

R. Glenn Weaver, Ethan T. Hunt, Bridget Armstrong, Michael W. Beets, Keith Brazendale, Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Russell R. Pate, Shawn D. Youngstedt, Roddrick Dugger, Hannah Parker, Lauren von Klinggraeff, Alexis Jones, Sarah Burkart, Layton Ressor-Oyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic may have negatively impacted children's weight status owing to the closure of schools, increased food insecurity and reliance on ultraprocessed foods, and reduced opportunities for outdoor activity. Methods: In this interrupted time-series study, height and weight were collected from children (n=1,770 children, mean age=8.7 years, 55.3% male, 64.6% Black) and were transformed into BMI z-score in each August/September from 2017 to 2020. Mixed-effects linear regression estimated yearly BMI z-score change before the COVID-19 pandemic year (i.e., 2017–2019) and during the COVID-19 pandemic year (i.e., 2019–2020). Subgroup analyses by sex, race (i.e., Black, White, other race), weight status (overweight or obese and normal weight), and grade (i.e., lower=kindergarten−2nd grade and upper=3rd−6th grade) were conducted. Results: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, children's yearly BMI z-score change was +0.03 (95% CI= −0.10, 0.15). Change during the COVID-19 pandemic was +0.34 (95% CI=0.21, 0.47), an acceleration in BMI z-score change of +0.31 (95% CI=0.19, 0.44). For girls and boys, BMI z-score change accelerated by +0.33 (95% CI=0.16, 0.50) and +0.29 (95% CI=0.12, 0.46), respectively, during the pandemic year. Acceleration in BMI z-score change during the pandemic year was observed for children who were Black (+0.41, 95% CI=0.21, 0.61) and White (+0.22, 95% CI=0.06, 0.39). For children classified as normal weight, BMI z-score change accelerated by +0.58 (95% CI=0.40, 0.76). Yearly BMI z-score change accelerated for lower elementary/primary (+0.23, 95% CI=0.08, 0.37) and upper elementary/primary (+0.42, 95% CI=0.42, 0.63) children. Conclusions: If similar BMI z-score accelerations occurred for children across the world, public health interventions to address this rapid unhealthy BMI gain will be urgently needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e161-e169
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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