HJAR Nov/Dec 2022

36 NOV / DEC 2022 I  HEALTHCARE JOURNAL OF ARKANSAS POLICY COLUMN POLICY INADDITION to the vast numbers of deaths and serious illnesses COVID-19 has caused directly, the pandemic has had countless ripple effects on Americans’ health. These effects are becoming clear as researchers collect data showing dramatic increases in adults reporting anxiety and depression, 1 mortality rates from heart disease and stroke, 2 drug overdose deaths, 3 and adults reporting unwanted weight gain, 4 to name just a few examples. The pandemic’s ripple effects have also reached our children. An Arkansas Center for Health Improvement analysis of body mass index (BMI) data for Arkansas public school children in grades K, two, four, six, eight, and 10, collected by the state as re- quired under Act 1220 of 2003, 5 shows that the first wave of the pandemic coincided with a significant increase in childhood obe- sity in the state. We found that more than 1 in 4 children (26%) had a BMI measure- ment classified as obese in the 2020-2021 school year. 6 This is up from 22.9% the pre- vious year and is the largest percentage of students classified as obese sinceArkansas BMI data collection began in 2003. The increase in obesity from the 2019- 2020 school year to the 2020-2021 school year was significantly greater than typical year-to-year increases. Over the three years between the 2016-2017 school year and the 2019-2020 school year, the percentage of students classified as obese increased from 22% to 22.9%, compared to the much larger one-year jump from 22.9% to 26% in the 2020-2021 school year. We observed a statistically significant increase in the proportion of students classified as obese, not just overall but in each of the grades measured. Grades K, two, and four had the highest year-to-year increases, although the upper grades had higher percentages of students with BMI measurements in the obese range com- pared to the lower grades, a finding that is consistent with past years. The increases by grade from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 were: kindergarten, from 15.8% to 19.6%; second grade, from 20.6% to 24.8%; fourth grade, from 24% to 28.4%; sixth grade, from 26.2% to 28.7%; eighth grade, from 25.9% to 28.7%; and 10th grade, from 26% to 27.8%. We found that 18% of students were clas- sified as overweight in the 2020-2021 school year, up from 17% in the previous school year. The percentage of students classi- fied as either overweight or obese jumped from nearly 40% in 2019-2020 to 44% in 2020-2021. At the time of writing, we are still ana- lyzing BMI data for the 2021-2022 school year, but I expect our report to be released How the COVID-19 Pandemic Worsened Childhood Obesity in Arkansas