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Rise in Childhood Obesity Adds to Worries During COVID

Shape Your Future has free tips and tools to keep Oklahoma kids healthy.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 22, 2020) – Shape Your Future, a program of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), is making it easier to keep Oklahoma children healthy during the pandemic. Parents, teachers, health care providers and communities can visit to plug into easy ways to encourage kids to eat healthier, be active and sleep better, all of which help prevent obesity.

Oklahoma ranks 8th highest in youth obesity in the U.S., according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. More than a third of Oklahomans 10 to 17 years old are overweight or obese, nearly 150,000 children.

Public health experts believe the COVID crisis may increase the risk of these unhealthy behaviors and negatively impact childhood obesity rates. Some areas of the country are reporting weight gain as much as 30 pounds in youth since the virus broke out, and social distancing has meant less time spent outdoors playing and being physically active. Scientists, researchers and doctors across the globe are speculating that the long-term effects of the pandemic may impact the health of our kids for years to come.

“Obesity is an underlying epidemic during the COVID health pandemic,” said Dr. Ashley Weedn, assistant professor and director of the Healthy Future Clinic and director of the Pediatric Obesity Research Program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “It’s imperative that during this time, parents remain committed to their child’s physical and emotional health, especially for children already struggling with excess weight.”

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that childhood obesity is “a significant threat to child health.” Obesity in children can cause chronic health issues such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. It also increases their risk for heart disease, and children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults.

Poor nutrition, lack of proper sleep and sedentary lifestyles are some of the major factors in childhood obesity.

“Life is unpredictable right now, and families have a lot to juggle with work, school and routines that have been upended,” said TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee, mother of two boys. “Shape Your Future can be a lifeline for keeping our kids’ health on track by helping kids and parents fit healthy food and activities into their busy lives.”

Although there is no quick fix, modeling a few simple, healthy habits can go a long way in preventing and reversing obesity in children.

“To help combat weight gain while at home, aim to provide a consistent meal, activity and sleep structure for children” said Weedn. “Adopt one or two new healthy behaviors [see SYF resources] each month as a family and work to maintain them.  Consistency is key. If weight gain is occurring, talk with your child’s doctor.”

  • Help kids move! Get active for 60 minutes each day. It helps children focus, sleep better and lessens anxiety and stress.
  • Make sleep a priority. That’s eight hours of sleep or more, depending on age. Also, avoid screen time for at least an hour before bed.
  • Eat healthy. Add an extra serving of fruit or vegetables to meals. It will help fill them up and feel great. Need ideas? Shape Your Future has tips for picky eatershealthy recipes for busy schedules and more.
  • Drinking water is also essential for our health and Shape Your Future has numerous tips to help. Try our Sugar Calculator and Sugary Drink Quiz.

For additional COVID-19 resources and tips for staying healthy during this time, check out this free and family-oriented healthy content from Shape Your Future.


Shape Your Future (SYF) is a community health education intervention that encourages Oklahomans to eat better, move more and be tobacco free. SYF was developed in 2011 by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). It provides simple messaging for moms and influencers in the lives of children to eat more fruits and vegetables and to be more physically active to improve overall health. SYF strives to educate parents, teachers, caregivers and all Oklahomans on how to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, cultivating innovative and life-changing research, and working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public’s health. To learn more, visit

TSET – Better Lives Through Better Health