The Impact of Covid-19 Related School Closures on Children's Weight Status

Project Details


Project Summary The proposed project has two aims: 1) to assess the short and long-term impact of school closures mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic on students? weight status, and 2) to examine the mitigating potential of child-targeted food assistance programs implemented during the closures. While there is some evidence that interruptions in school during summer recess result in weight gain among children in elementary grades, we have little basis for predicting the effects of a hiatus of unprecedented length, 6 months or more posed by the coronavirus. Pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the USDA extended the summer feeding program to deliver meals to children during the pandemic-related school closures; the USDA also authorized emergency food assistance through Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer cards for out-of-school children who qualify for school meals programs. While summer meals have been provided in the past to some students through summer meals programs, research establishing the adequacy of these programs in addressing weight status is lacking. To address the study aims, we will collect and analyze nurse-measured heights and weights data on children attending 120 public schools serving low-income children in New Jersey. Interrupted times series analyses will be applied to data collected prior to school closures, during four school years (SY) between 2013-14 and 2019-20 (approximately 30,000 students per year); and an additional two school years post-closure, one coinciding with the re-opening of schools (SY2020-21) and the other two years later (SY2022-23). For the same school years, we will incorporate, as covariates, annual data on school food and physical activity (PA) environments that have been found to be associated with weight status, as well as measures of the surrounding food and PA environment known to affect obesity rates. New data on operation and reach of the two federal, child-targeted food assistance programs in school catchment areas over the course of school closures will be collected to establish the mitigating potential of these programs. The proposed study will make a unique contribution to our understanding of the long-term effects of a key dimension of federal obesity policy affecting some thirty million predominantly low-income children ? provision of free and reduced priced school meals. As such, the findings will be critical to our readiness to respond to future disasters and to our efforts to assure the adequacy of the food safety net.
Effective start/end date9/1/218/31/22


  • Education
  • Food Science


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