MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Pediatricians are noticing weight gain in children and not just a few pounds.

Many children are returning to the doctor’s office for annual checkups or physicals for the first time since the pandemic.

Dr. Lucretia Carter, a mom and Tideland’s Health pediatrician, says this is something near to her heart. Both of her children, along with patient after patient, have experienced weight gain during the pandemic.

“My son was a kiddo who played basketball year-round, and so it was an abrupt stop,” Dr. Carter said. Dr. Carter believes the extra pounds result from less physical activity, social interaction, and many youth sports put on pause.

Doctors see young children who used to fall between an average weight range for their age and height suddenly become overweight, even obese. “The 20-30 pound weight gain over a short period, not even within a year, but just within a couple of months. It’s gotten pretty widespread, I’d say,” Dr. Carter said.

Sudden weight gain can have mental and physical impacts, according to medical experts. Some symptoms are onset while other effects are long-term.

Parents such as Dr. Carter have noticed the extra pounds causing shorter attention span, abruptness, lack of motivation, among a list of noticeable changes.

The long-term effects of significant weight gain can cause insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or type two diabetes, and high blood pressure. “We see acne and overall self-esteem, and that’s really one of the big areas we’ve seen a big hit on mental health and overall stress and anxiety and self-esteem,” Dr. Carter said.

A study this month from the Journal of American Academy Pediatrics shows the most significant increase in obesity was in children ages 5 to 9.

Doctors attribute weight gain to loss of routine and remote schooling, which likely led to usual eating, activity, and sleep habits.

As students head back to school and begin to return to normal routines, experts say the weight won’t automatically come off.

Dr. Carter recommends referring to daily changes in the routine as “lifestyle changes” instead of “diet.”

Outdoor activities, replacements of sugary snacks with healthier options, weekend walks, or just creating a fun indoor play environment for children are a few ideas doctors say can make an impact on weight and mental and physical health.