Bailee N. Heatwole, Elizabeth I. Ackley. Roanoke College, Salem, VA.

BACKGROUND: The relationship between childhood obesity and learning outcomes is unclear but suggestive of an association, particularly in early childhood. COVID-19 created an environment contributing to rapid weight gain and reductions in grade-level reading (GLR) attainment in youth, with the greatest increase in obesity and learning loss occurring in elementary school children. PURPOSE: To document the impact of COVID-19 on youth weight status and GLR attainment in elementary school children across a mid-sized city and to explore the association between weight gain and reductions in GLR within this cohort. METHODS: Child weight status and school-level GLR attainment scores were collected from Roanoke city public elementary schools in 2019 (n = 5,196) and 2021 (n = 5,064). Objective measures of BMI-for-age were assessed via the FitnessGram Test Battery; GLR attainment was evaluated as a function of “Standards of Learning” pass rates by school. Descriptive analyses were used to document change in local prevalence rates of child weight status and GLR attainment. Correlation was used to explore the relationship between change scores in child weight status and GLR attainment across elementary schools from 2019 to 2021. RESULTS: As a result of the pandemic, the prevalence of child obesity increased from 23% (2019) to 28% (2021) and GLR attainment declined from 65% (2019) to 50% (2021). No relationship was observed between change scores in child weight status and GLR attainment from 2019 to 2021, (r(15)= -0.16, p = .54). CONCLUSION: As the first-known study to document pandemic-related changes in child weight status and GLR attainment across an entire mid-sized city, unfavorable trends were observed in both indicators. While the association between learning attainment and child weight status was not significant, findings suggest a need for targeted interventions to address the negative consequences of the pandemic on elementary school children.

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