MONTREAL -- A Montreal dietician and nutritionist says she is seeing more children who have gained an unhealthy amount of weight since the pandemic began.

"Because we've seen such big changes in activity levels, also changes in screen time, it changes what people are eating, " said Kim Arrey. "We've seen one study that said on average kids are eating one extra meal a day, " she added.

More time at home coupled with fewer social interactions and higher stress levels has had an impact on what people are reaching for at the grocery store, and that includes packaged foods that are higher in salt, sugars and lower in nutrients.

"If we look at the data on what people are buying, we are seeing more consumers are buying ready-made comfort foods. So, kids are going to be eating it too. It's not just Mom and Dad who are eating it," Arrey said.

The pandemic has also moved people into the kitchen and what they're cooking up is having an impact as families spend more time discovering new recipes and cooking techniques.

"I see a lot more of my clients are cooking, which is lovely, and many of them are cooking with their kids, which is also wonderful, but both of them, especially kids, are gravitating towards making desserts," Arrey added.

"I think it's really important to make sure that as parents we take the time to plan meals, get the kids involved in the planning of meals and the cooking of the meals, the real food, as opposed to just desserts, "she said.

For parents, it comes down to modelling positive behaviours.

"I think one of the other issues is that parents sometimes manage stress with eating, and some parents are looking for comfort foods so it becomes viral," Arrey said. "Especially for younger children, it's really important for parents to model [healthy] behaviour. It's really not fun to look at your kid and say 'Do as I say and not as I do,' you can't eat chips, but I'm scoffing them down. So, really make sure you're eating the broccoli, even if you don't like it, make sure you're going for walks, even if it's not part of your normal routine."


A more troubling trend during the months of isolation and lockdowns has been an increase or exacerbation of eating disorders among young people.

Dr. Catherine Serra Poirier, a psychologist at the Eating Disorder Clinic at the Montreal Children's Hospital, confirmed they are seeing more teenagers suffering from an eating disorder, and when they do see them, she said, the cases are more severe because they wait longer before seeking help.

"One of the reasons contributing, we think, especially during the first wave of COVID, is that teenagers were spending a lot of time at home, they had [fewer] organized activities, schools were closed.... for some kids who already had a vulnerability for an eating disorder, a lot of them lost control," she said.

A lack of supervision at home, with both parents working, for example, is also a contributing factor, added Serra Poirier. So is the absence of team sports, "A lot of kids who are athletes were also forced to stop and some of them panicked and became very anxious and stressed about not being able to practise their sports and the consequence that would have on their body," she said.

Patients with the disease see it as a way to exercise control when faced with situations beyond their sphere of influence. For many, conditions brought on by the pandemic have been a trigger and bingeing or drastically reducing food intake has been a way to cope.

"You want to control the eating because you want to manage your emotion(s), or feel better, or have a sense of control... and the first thing you know is that the eating disorder is controlling you," said Dr. Pierre-Olivier Nadeau, a psychiatrist at Sainte-Justine Hospital.

Anybody can suffer from an eating disorder, he said.

"Sure you can have the genetic predisposition from that, and the effects of the pandemic. I would say there is a certain risk to develop one, even for people who say they won't," Nadeau said.

Dr. Holly Agostino, Dir. of the Eating Disorders Program at the Montreal Children's Hospital, advises teenagers to seek help, "Even if that means from a parent or a peer. It's really hard to go to war with anorexia by yourself."

Anyone seeking help can call Anorexia and Bulimia Quebec at 1-800-630-0907 or go to the website at