The health of millions of Americans may have been affected by weight gain and lack of exercise during the pandemic, even if they have avoided the acute dangers of Covid-19 infection, suggests emerging evidence compiled by obesity researchers. and the anecdotal experiences of family doctors. .
“Ninety-eight percent of my day is, ‘You haven’t been exercising, you’ve gained weight, and your diabetes is out of control. We need to help him with that, ‘”said Dr. Andrew Carroll, who is part of a multidisciplinary family medicine practice in Chandler, Arizona. “It’s very rare that he’s cutting back on medications in the last year.”
In several cases, doctors said that the main factors in the deterioration of health were “lifestyle” factors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet and stress. More than 60% of American family physicians saw an increase in obesity among their patients, according to a survey of 910 physicians conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Weight gain is not necessarily harmful in and of itself. However, being overweight is associated with a number of chronic health problems, such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Obesity is also associated with increased risks from Covid-19.
“The overwhelming stress of living in a time of pandemic is really impacting [patients’] health in a significant way, ”Carroll said. Typical patients are “gaining weight on the order of 10 to 30 pounds,” he said.
The immediate impact of Covid-19 in the US has been terrible. More than 543,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 29 million have been infected. For every person who dies, and an estimated nine more suffer. Additionally, millions of people may experience the potentially disabling effects of “long-distance Covid” or depression from the isolation that the pandemic has caused.
But those who have survived the pandemic so far may also face long-term health consequences. Patients “eat a lot more carbohydrate-rich foods, gain weight, and suffer from other medical conditions,” said Dr. Sterling Ransone Jr, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), whose practice is in rural Deltaville, Virginia. “Mainly, it is due to lifestyle concerns.”
Because so many people in such a wide swath of the public are affected, the implications of weight gain for the population could be devastating. More than 42% of American adults already live with obesity, a proportion that has increased by 12% in the past 18 years, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Due to stressors, I see a lot of people turn to their comfort foods, whether it’s mac and cheese or a bag of Chex Mix,” Rascone said.
In surveys conducted by obesity researchers, people have reported more snacking, junk food, and delivery meals amid the pandemic. Contrary to intuition, the intake of some healthy foods, such as fruits and homemade meals, has also increased.
But, even for people who eat healthier foods, the disruption of the routines of daily life, such as going to the supermarket, running errands, or walking through a large office, has ended the “environmental exercise” that people used to do while working. devoted to the day.
Public health measures aimed at containing the pandemic “have still been extremely destabilizing,” said Rachel Rodgers, associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University.
Changes in eating habits could be especially long-lasting for groups, such as “kids, teens, and new college students who are transitioning to independent life choices,” Rodgers said. “That this happens at that moment could be really important in his life.”
Evidence on how people’s habits have changed during the pandemic is only now emerging. Studies on diet and exercise have been scaled down during the pandemic, and subjects, researchers, and institutions have been reluctant to attend studies in person. That means much of the research on people’s habits has been left to survey data and bluetooth fitness devices.
“Basically, you lock people in a room and see how their health and psychological factors are going to change,” said Surabhi Bhutani, an assistant professor in the school of exercise and nutrition sciences at San Diego State University in California. “It’s really like a natural experiment.”
Studies from FitBit, a wearable fitness tracker, have found an overall decrease in both steps and minutes of daily activity, even as people expand daily meditation, yoga, and running practices, which don’t require a gym . Similarly, a research letter in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the step count tracked by smartphones dropped 27% globally within 30 days of the onset of the pandemic.
A small study of 269 Americans using bluetooth scales found that people gained an average of 1.5 pounds per month from February to May 2020. Extrapolated to one year, that could translate to 18 pounds of extra weight. In particular, the study was not representative of the US It mainly included middle-aged white participants, who would likely be more health conscious.
Bhutani and his co-authors recently published a survey in the journal Nutrients, in which 40% of people reported gaining weight during the “peak lockdown” months of spring 2020. Although the average weight gain was only 1.5 pounds, about a third continued to gain weight during the summer and early fall. This study also oversampled white participants relative to population.
Bhutani said the one-year quarantine may resemble a phenomenon similar to winter break weight gain, less than the so-called “15 quarantine.”
However, Rodgers emphasized that health does not necessarily mean a rigid diet and exercise, but “finding yourself where you are.” She believes that many people will return to exercising more and improving diets when the “external” stressors of the pandemic recede.
“It is always important to remember that there are strengths, resilience and behaviors that we can practice to try to protect ourselves,” he said.